The varying age of consent from state to state

Photo via Image Catalog/Flickr (Public Domain)

Consent laws have changed a lot in the past 20 years.

When it comes to sex, the most crucial component for all parties to consider is consent—not just morally, but legally. In the United States, each state has different laws dictating the legal age of consent for heterosexual people to engage in sex, which includes laws governing indecent exposure, masturbation, pornography, and marriage. Since Hawaii raised its age of consent from 14 to 16 in 2001, all 50 states recognize 16 as a minimum age of consent, with more than half of states approving 16 as the legal age.

For a long time, though, the age of consent for same-sex couples was notably higher than for heterosexual couples in some states—and in some cases, it was entirely illegal. But on June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas struck down Texas’ anti-gay sodomy law and took with it all other state laws intruding on consensual same-sex sexual relations.

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Today, each state’s laws outline specific punishments for people who engage in sexual activity with someone under the legal age of consent. There are also caveats for those who fall within certain age ranges, called “close-in-age” exemptions. Close-in-age exemptions allow people below the age of consent to lawfully have sex with older partners provided that those partners fall within a certain age range. In Delaware, for example, even though the legal age of consent is 18, people who are 16 or 17 years old can legally engage in sex with an older partner as long as that person is under 30 years old. These laws, also called Romeo and Juliet laws, don’t exist in all states; in California, all sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18 is not considered consensual. If two 17-year-olds consent to having sex, both have committed a misdemeanor.

So while each state has defined the legal age of consent, there are stipulations to consider to prevent statutory rape—the general term for a person over the age of 18 having sex with a minor under the age of consent.

Here are the bare-bones numbers for legal ages of consent across the United States.

Age of consent by state

Alabama
Legal age of consent: 16

Alaska
Legal age of consent: 16

Arizona
Legal age of consent: 18

Arkansas
Legal age of consent: 16

California
Legal age of consent: 18

Colorado
Legal age of consent: 17

Connecticut
Legal age of consent: 16

Delaware
Legal age of consent: 18

Florida

Legal age of consent: 18

Georgia
Legal age of consent: 16

Hawaii
Legal age of consent: 16

Idaho
Legal age of consent: 18

Illinois
Legal age of consent: 17

Indiana
Legal age of consent: 16

Iowa
Legal age of consent: 16

Kansas
Legal age of consent: 16

Kentucky
Legal age of consent: 16

Louisiana
Legal age of consent: 17

Maine
Legal age of consent: 16

Maryland
Legal age of consent: 16

Massachusetts
Legal age of consent: 16

Michigan
Legal age of consent: 16

Minnesota
Legal age of consent: 16

Mississippi
Legal age of consent: 16

Missouri
Legal age of consent: 17

Montana
Legal age of consent: 16

Nebraska
Legal age of consent: 17

Nevada
Legal age of consent: 16

New Hampshire
Legal age of consent: 16

New Jersey
Legal age of consent: 16

New Mexico
Legal age of consent: 17

New York
Legal age of consent: 17

North Carolina
Legal age of consent: 16

North Dakota
Legal age of consent: 18

Ohio
Legal age of consent: 16

Oklahoma
Legal age of consent: 16

Oregon
Legal age of consent: 18

age of consent by state Photo by Chris Brown/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

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Pennsylvania
Legal age of consent: 16

Rhode Island
Legal age of consent: 16

South Carolina
Legal age of consent: 16

South Dakota
Legal age of consent: 16

Tennessee
Legal age of consent: 18

Texas
Legal age of consent: 17

Utah
Legal age of consent: 16 years old for women, 18 years old for men

Vermont
Legal age of consent: 16

Virginia
Legal age of consent: 18

Washington
Legal age of consent: 16

West Virginia
Legal age of consent: 16

Wisconsin
Legal age of consent: 18

Wyoming
Legal age of consent: 16 years old for women, 18 years old for men

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance. 

Mehak Anwar

Mehak Anwar

Mehak Anwar is a reporter whose work focuses on LGBTQ rights, intersectional feminism, and race. Her byline has appeared in Bustle and the Huffington Post.