Many young people think that if they feel ready to have sex and as long as they use protection, it has nothing to do with anyone else. This is not the case, so it's important that you know the facts about sex and the law.

The age of consent?

The age of consent is the age at which the law says you are old enough to make your own decisions about having sex and who you have sex with. In the UK, the law says that both partners must be sixteen or over. Before you reach this age, you can't legally have sex with anyone, however old they are, or whether you have your parents' consent.

If someone who is over the age of consent has sex with someone who is under the age of sixteen, they can be charged with the crime of 'unlawful sexual intercourse'. It does not matter if both people agreed to have sex.

Sexual abuse

This is when a person under the age of consent is pressured into any type of sexual contact that they do not want. If you or anyone you know is being treated in this way, you should tell an adult you trust immediately. Contact your Connexions Personal Adviser for confidential advice and support.

The NSPCC - the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children - specialises in child protection and the prevention of cruelty to children. If you're worried about a child, call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 24 hours a day, or visit the NSPCC website.

The NSPCC's Childline helpline provides practical help and support about sex and sexual abuse to young people. Call Freephone 0800 11 11 or visit the Childline website.

Kidscape is a UK charity established specifically to prevent child sexual abuse and bullying.  The Kidscape Helpline on 08451 205 204 offers help and advice to parents, carers or concerned relatives and friends of abused or bullied children.