What does the law say?

A young person can use a health service or get medical treatment at any age (including without their parent's permission) as long as the young person understands what it is they are doing. This includes going to a sexual health clinic, GP, or asking for and getting contraception.

Young people can buy condoms at any age. They can also get free condoms from the c:card service at which operates across the Lothians.

Sex under the age of 16 is illegal. When both parties are 16 or older, and both want to have sex, and both consent, then it is legal to have sex. Forced sex is always against the law, regardless of age.

If a young person under 13 is involved in sexual activity, this is a child protection issue. All professionals should discuss such situations with their line managers or designated child protection contact as soon as possible.

What does the law say about 13, 14 or 15 years olds having sex?

Most people wait until they are 16 or older before having sex. But sometimes young people have sex sooner. The law says

  • If a young man and young woman have sex together and they are both 13, 14 or 15 years old, they are both breaking the law.
  • If a young man and his partner are gay, have sex together, and are both 13, 14 or 15 years old they are both breaking the law
  • If a young woman and her partner are lesbian, have sex together and are both 13, 14 or 15 years old they are both breaking the law
  • If one of the young people is 13, 14 or 15 years old and their partner is 16 or older the older person is breaking the law.

But what about child protection when it comes to 13, 14 and 15 year olds having sex?

It is essential that you understand how your professional practice is guided by The Edinburgh and Lothians Inter-Agency Child Protection Procedures 2007.

The supporting document ELBEG Under-age Sexual Activity Inter-agency Guidance (2011) provides professionals with clear guidance where young people are involved in sexual activity under the age of 16 years.The document states:

Where under 16s are having sex, professionals must consider the following and make a risk assessment:

  • The age of the young people involved
  • Any imbalance of power
  • Overt aggression
  • Whether coercion or bribery is involved or such an allegation has been made
  • Whether substances have been used as a disinhibitor
  • Whether the young person’s own behaviour, because of substance misuse, places him/her at risk so that s/he is unable to give informed consent to any activity
  • Whether the young person is able to give informed consent (e.g. mental illness, learning disability, etc.)
  • Whether unusual attempts have been made to keep the relationship secret (beyond what would be considered normal in a teenage relationship)
  • Whether methods used are consistent with grooming.

Where can I find out more about young people, sex and the law?

The Scottish Child Law Centre gives information and advice about the law. You can contact them by telephone for free on 0800 328 8970 or by email to or by writing to SCLC 54 East Crosscauseway, Edinburgh EH8 9HD. More at

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is the international law that states what rights young people have from birth until they are 18 years old. There is more on this at

Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People: The job of the Commissioner and her team is to make sure that people listen when children and young people have important things to say about their lives. This might include people in schools, parliament and law courts. More at