Most states have laws that prohibit individuals under a certain age from being able to consent to sex. Learn about age of consent laws and what the specific rules are in your state.
Defining the age of consent
Many states have statutory rape laws prohibiting sexual conduct with a minor regardless of whether the minor consented.
Age of consent: the age at which a minor can voluntarily agree to sexual intercourse.
Most states set the age of consent at 16 years, but some states set it at 17 or 18 years of age. So, even though an individual who is under the age of consent is physically able to say “yes” or “no” to sexual conduct, the law does not recognize their consent. Sex with anyone younger than this age is classified as statutory rape.
Close-in-age provisions, also called “Romeo and Juliet laws” allow a person who is under the age of consent to legally consent to sex as long as the older person is only a few years older than they are. For instance, if the age of consent is 16, a close-in-age provision might allow someone who is 15 to legally consent to intercourse with someone who is the age of 16 or 17, but not to anyone older than that.
The table below lists states in which sex between two minors of similar age is not considered a crime. However, even if your state does not have a close-in-age provision, a judge may still take the age difference into consideration when sentencing.
In many states, marriage overrides any age of consent law, and the younger person can consent to sexual contact with their spouse, and no one else.
These laws vary widely from state to state. Check your state’s legal code to find out what the laws apply to your jurisdiction, and confirm your interpretation of the law with an attorney.