Homosexual Age of Consent

Article Reference: Nucleus, July 1998, pp4-6; Author: Trevor Stammers

Equality is not always just. For example, should insurance companies treat smokers and non-smokers equally when it comes to assessing risk? Perhaps the fact that those same insurance companies always ask about homosexuality in assessing premiums confirms that homosexual and heterosexual intercourse do not pose equal risk.

There are three principal reasons why I believe the age of homosexual consent should not be lowered to 16:

Three truths to affirm

  1. The health risks of homosexual practice are higher than heterosexual practice
    Exclusively monogamous gay relationships are extremely rare[1] and 90% or more of gay men engage in anal intercourse.[2,3]These two patterns of behaviour lead to an increased risk of four types of physical disease: STIs, enteric infections, anal trauma and cancer, AIDS.[4]

    In the UK 64% of HIV infections are acquired as a result of gay sex.[5]

  2. Homosexual orientation is often a transient phase of adolescent development
    Although the British Medical Association claims that sexual orientation is fixed by the age of sixteen, the Wellings survey and other studies clearly contradict this. Wellings concludes: 'The difference in prevalence between lifetime and current homosexual experience points to the likelihood that homosexual experience is often a relatively isolated or passing event'.[6] Another large study shows that sexual orientation is uncertain in many boys in their lower teens with an increasing number being more certain with increasing age.[7]

  3. Homosexuality and paedophilia are linked
    Freund and Watson, though careful to point out that their study should not be interpreted as indicating that gay men are more likely to be paedophiles, none the less conclude: 'homosexual development notably does not result in androphilia but in homosexual paedophilia'.[8] Freund's data also show that a) around 80% of the victims of paedophilia are boys molested by adult males and b) although most gay men are not paedophiles, 35% of paedophiles are homosexual whilst only 2% of adult men overall are homosexual.[9]

I also take issue with the three usual reasons given in favour of lowering the age of consent:

Three fallacies to dispute

  1. Men aged 16-18 are not in need of special protection from being 'recruited' into homosexuality
    Few people realise that the absolute heterosexual age of consent (when there is no legal defence possible for the man) is actually thirteen, not sixteen, under current law. If equality is given for homosexual acts then older boys and men will be able, with impunity, to have sex with boys as young as thirteen.

    As one gay writer chillingly puts it, 'what will happen when the limit is reduced to 16? Won't there be a few precocious individuals of 14 or 15 who are tempted to experiment? Is it not likely that they too will escape prosecution for the very reason that 16 or 17 year olds escape it now? So the ratchet of permissiveness is given another deadly twist.'[10]

  2. The risk posed by predatory older men is just as great whether the victim is a man or a woman
    The comments on paedophilia above show that this is not so.

  3. An unequal age of consent prevents the provision of safe-sex advice to those most at risk
    This is the most astonishing argument of all! I regularly give sex education classes to 12-14 year olds and can give safe-sex advice without hindrance. Since the Gillick judgement doctors have been freely able to give both contraceptives and confidential advice to under 16 year olds who request it. A whole host of gay helplines and widely available leaflets already give explicit advice perfectly legally.

    Furthermore, some leading gay writers are disparaging about safe-sex education anyway.

    'The implicit goal of eradicating unsafe sex is unrealistic. It is neither a sustainable strategy nor an epidemiological necessity, but rather an unnecessary restriction on desire and action.' [11]

    Finally, lack of knowledge is not really the issue in any case. Non-use of condoms is not because of lack of knowledge about HIV. As one AIDS specialist laments: 'What makes me despair is that 30% of my patients...went into a relationship knowing that their partner was positive. If people will do that, will have sex without a condom with someone who's openly positive, then how the hell are we going to persuade two people who are probably negative to use a condom "just in case"?'[12]

A Deaf Government

A brave minority of gay men do recognise the dangers of lowering the age of consent. 'As far as I'm concerned, 18 is a perfectly reasonable age of consent. Many teenagers who think they're gay turn out not to be and there should be clear guidelines to protect anyone who is young, unhappy and confused from those who would exploit the situation.'[13] The government, however, seems as deaf to their plea as to mine.


  1. Johnson A, Wellings K et al. Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Blackwell, 1994:213
  2. Ibid:216-7
  3. Weatherburn P et al. The Sexual Lifestyles of Gay and Bisexual Men in England and Wales. HMSO, 1992:13-14,29
  4. Owen W. Medical Problems of the Homosexual Adolescent. J Adolescent Health Care 1985;6:278-85.
  5. Adler M. Sexual Health: A Health of The Nation Failure. BMJ 1997;314:1743-47
  6. Wellings K et al. Sexual Behaviour in Britain. Penguin, 1994:203
  7. Remafedi G et al. Demography of Sexual Orientation in Adolescents. Paediatrics 1992;89:714-721
  8. Freund K, Watson RI. The proportions of heterosexual and homosexual paedophiles among sex offenders against children. J Sex Mar Ther 1992;18:34-43
  9. Freund K et al. Paedophilia and heterosexuality vs homosexuality. J Sex Mar Ther 1984;10:193-200
  10. Farson D. Daily Mail 1997;15 July
  11. Davies P. Safer Sex Maintenance among gay men: are we moving in the right direction? AIDS 1993;7:280
  12. Garfield S. The End of Innocence: Britian in the time of AIDS. Faber and Faber, 1994:106
  13. Williams D. Daily Mail 1997; 9 July

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