under age kissing - is it illegal

Ask Bish – Under Age Kissing?

A question about whether it’s against the law to snog someone who is under the age of 16.


I’m 18 and on Saturday night kissed a girl (to full extent) who it transpires is only 15. I am receiving a lot of grief from friends, but that is mostly banterous and will blow over. What I’m more concerned about is to what extent have I done something either just wrong, or illegal? The facts: I’m 18, she’s 15 I did not know her age until checking on Sunday morning, and was sufficiently drunk not to consider it as the time, as she looked much older. Any advice or help appreciated. Thank you

Hey

Thanks for your question. (I’m assuming that you are in the UK, all of this advice is about UK law).

I’ll explain the legal aspects of your question first which may sounds worrying but please carry on reading as I want to try and set your mind at rest a little.

The law

Technically, you may have broken the law under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 of having (or inciting) sexual activity with someone under the age of 16, but over the age of 13 (section 9 or 10).

Read more about sex and the law.

Sexual activity has an extremely broad definition in English Law and it doesn’t just apply to penetrative sex. It applies to any sexual touching that is sexual in nature or could be deemed to be sexual. Under this very broad definition ‘kissing’ in the way you describe, could be deemed to be sexual. Even if someone wanted and was willing to be touched, if they were under the age of 16 then the other person could be committing an offence (yes, even if they are also under the age of 16).

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The defence

There is a defence if the offender reasonably believed the other person to be over the age of 16. So you say that she looked a lot older and that could be a defence for you (in the very unlikely case) this got to court. Though you say that you were drunk and didn’t think about whether they were over 16, so that might not be seen as taking reasonable steps.

But but but but but but but but….

The law around under age sex is not intended to be used to prosecute young people of roughly the same age and level of understanding where the activity was truly consensual. Also it’s unlikely to be in the public interest to prosecute a temporary drunken snog at a party where there was no coercion, threats, deception or grooming.

The law is deliberately vague in order to increase the number of successful prosecutions of offences against under 16s where there is a more serious sexual activity, or where there is abuse, or offenders preying on the vulnerability of young people.

So although you may have technically broken the law, it’s very unlikely that you will be prosecuted (on the facts that you have told me).

Remember though that I am not a legal professional. If you want some legal advice speak to a solicitor.

Now for some sex and relationships advice

Try not to get too pissed when you go to parties.

Drinking and snogging are very popular activities with young people in the UK, however it can sometimes lead to problems. Would you have snogged someone under the age of 16 if you were sober (or at least less pissed)? One of the problems is that alcohol (and other drugs) can affect our judgement, in terms of safety, what we do and who we do it with.

Read more about sex and booze.

Next time you go to a party make sure that your friends are looking out for you and that you are looking out for them. Make sure that you look out for each other so that you can stop your mate doing something a bit stupid. You were worried enough to ask Bish about this so maybe you should talk to your friends about it.

You may have to put up with their piss-taking for a bit, but if they are good friends they will stop doing this if you tell them straight that it is upsetting you.

If you want to have some better sex ed, try my Teach Yourself Sex Ed course. It’s free, like everything here.

Please leave a (nice) comment below if you like or ask me a question here.

© Justin Hancock, 2024 Find out more about me and BISH here.

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I’ve been a sex and relationships educator since 1999 (with a background in youth and community work). In that time I’ve taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. I’ve worked with many charities, local governments, schools and youth organisations facilitating training and workshops. My two books, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and If You Want To) and Can We Talk About Consent? are widely available around the world. I’ve been on the telly and the radio and have written articles for newspapers and magazines. I’m also a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Read more about me and BISH here. Find out about my other work here Justin Hancock

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14 thoughts on “Ask Bish – Under Age Kissing?

    1. If you’re in the UK, then I think that technically it can be illegal to ask to kiss someone who is under 14. It doesn’t matter whether you were drunk or not. It’s extremely unlikely that you will be prosecuted for it I think.

  1. If someone is 16 and they have a boyfriend or girlfriend that’s 17 would he/she go to jail for any sexual touching, kissing or anything? What is the legal age of consent for teens/young adults?

    1. Laws around the world vary, but in the UK the age of consent is 16. So all this would be fine (so long as it was consensual of course). In the UK the age of consent law is for all kinds of sexual touching.

    1. Hopefully allot of people… Ten is way too young, so is under 16, I was 14 when I lost my virginity and I regretted it, it wasn’t bad I just knew I could have waited because of how overatted it is, honestly there is no rush.

      I’m a 17 year old Male

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