Age of consent laws

Wiki’s page on the Ages of consent in North America

Popular culture has entirely brought me up to believe the age of consent in the US is legal adulthood at 18. There are dozens of stories that feature a guy who had sex with an underage girl who he thought was 18. There are all sorts of reference to guys joking or otherwise waiting until a girl turns 18 so she’s legal. I’ve never seen, in any context, a story like that with any age other than 18. You hear about creepy old rich guys with 18 year old girlfriends.

There’s never been “but she told me she was 16!” story when a guy has sex with a 15 year old, or a story about a guy waiting for a girl to turn 16 to have sex with her, and yet 31 states list the official age of consent as 16, some with caveats like that you can’t be a person of authority over that 16 year old.

So is the popular culture presentation of universally 18 across the board wrong, or am I missing something? Can you meet some 16 year old who’s working at mcdonalds, and tell them you’d like to take them home for sex, and then just do it, legally?


kidding. 16 year olds seem like little kids to me, so the thought is weird. I just think it’s odd that a million little things in popular culture made me certain anyone under 18 was jailbait for an adult, but apparently that isn’t the case?

I may not be right, but as I understand it, a 16 yo having sex with another 16 yo in a state where 16 is the age of consent, is not statutory rape. Make one of the party an 18 yo or older, and the elder will likely be seeing a Judge. Basically once one party reaches 18, they better stick to 18 and above.

That’s what I thought too, but many of the laws quoted on that page are of the “no one over the age of 18 shall have sexual intercourse with anyone under the age of 16” variety, making it sound as if 16 is legal to adults.

18 is the applicable age under much relevant Federal legislation dealing with use of interstate communications to persuade or entice, transport of minors for immoral purposes, etc. In general, the federal legislation is so worded that you only have a federal problem if you also have a state problem, e.g. if you are using interstate communications to enticie a minor into what is a criminal Act in the state concerned, then you have a federal problem as well as a state problem, but if the Act is not criminal in the state concerned then you have no federal problem either. Still, the fact that age 18 is specified in the federal legislation may account for the “headline” status of that age.

In most states, having sex with a 16-year old is not an offence, in the absence of some aggravating factor (like being in a position of authority over the 16-year old.

16-year olds may seem like little kids to you, but they don’t seem like little kids to other 16-year olds. However negatively you may view teenage sex, I think most people would agree that a blanket criminalisation it is not an appropriate or effective response.

No, I know. I wasn’t saying that I thought it was odd that 16 year olds could have sex with other 16 year olds. I know a lot of states have time windows of 2-3-4 years, so a 20 year old can have sex with a 16 year old in some states. But if I’m reading it correctly, it’s legal for a 30, 40, or 50 year old to have sex with a 16 year old in 31 states, and that surprises me.

IIRC laws differ across states.

I think some allow for a small age difference without getting in trouble. The idea being you are a 17 year old dating a girl 6 months younger you will not be busted when you turn 18.

I think some states even allow marriages with parental consent between an “underage” person and someone much older. Here is a 51 year-old guy marrying a 16 year-old girl (creepy I know).

While there may be variations in state law on this I think the bottom line is make sure she is 18 to be on the safe side. There may be loopholes but if you get it wrong you can be in serious trouble. So card your dates.

Besides, young women (i.e. teenagers) are insufferable (young men too).

TVTropes cites the “legal at 18” meme in popular culture as an example of “So Calization” (that is, assuming the entire world is like Southern California). Because the age of consent in California–and therefore in Hollywood–is 18, that’s what will be shown in movies and TV, even though it’s younger in much of the U.S.

It has beeen mentioned many a time in the unending “age of consent” debates on this board, that the age of consent varies from state to state in the USA, and isn’t uniformly 18.

I believe that these are called “Romeo and Juliet laws”. Basically, they don’t want to treat a recently turned 18 year old and their slightly underage sweetheart as a real case of child sex abuse, since socially, it really isn’t.

Remember that the age of consent is kind of a necessary evil for a society. A lot of people would probably like it to say “It is illegal for an adult to have sex with a child who is too immature to really understand and consent.”, but that makes prosecution virtually impossible and makes trials into each games where the prosecution brings forth a social worker who claims that, according to a study done by UIUC in 1990, only 1% of people under 18 really understand sex (and that those 1% are those with IQ’s above 125, and according to the IQ test administered to the victim, the victim’s IQ is 105), and the defense brings forth a psychiatrist who says that according to a 2005 study done by the University of Pennsylvania that education and popular media nowadays ensure that by age 12, a child has a full appreciation for sex and is fully capable of maturely consenting, with exceptions for children with an IQ under 85.

But it’s true. The “Romeo and Juliet Laws” mostly coexist and overlap with a state’s “firm” AoC. For instance, from that same page, the Alaska Statute:

(emphasis mine)

This means in Alaska it’s an offense for a 17-year old to have sex with a 14-year old or under, but not with a 15-year-old; and anyone older than 16 can have sex with anyone else older than 16, this being the hard and fast AoC.
My location uses the model in which there is no Romeo and Juliet window but if both parties are minors the offense is lessened. And we only moved up from 14 to 16 in this new century (carryover from agrarian times).

Age of consent in NY is 17. And 16 YO are not really little kids, no matter what people say.

At a brief glance through at Wiki, most states hold their AOE at 16-18. NY in particular has some fairly detailed Romeo Juliet laws. I thought there was one state younger than 16, but apparently not.

Can’t you get married younger than sixteen, though? I thought for sure you could…

It is worth noting that AoC tends to be a lot more complicated than even the Wiki page indicates. In addition to the variety of base AoC, and Romeo and Juliet exceptions, and the like, there are also a lot of specific act exceptions.

I was recently on a jury in Colorado where the case revolved around acts less than full intercourse, and for those specific acts AoC was 15. Our victim was 14 so it applied. But had she been 15, the defendant couldn’t have been charged even though the full AoC is 17 in Colorado.

Do any of the states you are interested in correspond with your upcoming road trip from Cleveland to Nevada?

Good thing to be prepared.

16 is the legal age of consent for a US Soldier as well. Provided the partner is not his spouse (in which case there is no age limit) and provided the relationship does not violate any local law where the sex took place.

I think 16 is more universal than 18. But popular culture would have you think otherwise. Pop Culture would also have you believe that planes fly because the wings are sucked upwards…

Haven’t check it recently, but in Texas the minimum age was 14 with parental consent.

In New York, you can get married at 14 for males and 13 for girls with parental and judicial approval. Here are the applicable laws in the US for age of marriage. In general, you can marry at 18 without parental consent, and at 16 with consent. Some states allow it younger than that with a judge’s permission.

Another reason for 18’s “headline status” (nice phrase) is that 18 is the legal minimum age to appear in pornographic works under federal law, and it’s that issue which tends to get more news coverage than any particular case of statutory rape. If course, this means that it’s illegal for 17 year olds to take pictures of themselves doing things it’s legal for them to do.

Even worse, I believe there’s been people prosecuted, or at least hassled, because they have pictures of themselves they took as 17 year olds.


Not a state, but it’s 14 in Puerto Rico.

I lol’d when I read that more than half of Mexico’s age of consent was 12 and four of their states’ was PUBERTY. Only in Mexico amirite?

In the states that have 16 as the age of consent, does anything additional happen at 18 that should be a consideration?