Relationships & Age Gaps

Sometimes you might end up chatting to someone or dating someone who is a little bit older than you. The things you have in common might make the age gap seem less important to you. Whilst dating someone a couple of years older doesn’t automatically mean there’s a problem, there are a few things to keep in mind. This is especially important if there is a larger age gap.

What does age impact?

Age can sometimes impact how much control someone has in a relationship - if someone is older than you they might have a higher-paying and professional job which means they can be in charge of finances and what money is spent on; they could have more life experience and try to control what you do as 'they know best'; or they get upset at you because you have other pressures such as exams to think about.

Depending on how old you are, age gaps in a relationship might have an impact on what you can and can’t do together. For example, what films you can see at the cinema or whether you can go to a bar together if you’re under 18. It’s important to talk about these things so that you are open and honest with each other and can plan things together that you can both do and are both comfortable with.

If someone is older than you, they might have more sexual experience. There should be no pressure to do anything that you don't feel comfortable doing or saying yes to something that you might not fully understand (remember for most sexual activity the age of consent is 16). Consent and open communication are really important in a healthy relationship.

In a relationship it’s really important that you both have an equal say in what you do together and how decisions are made, one person shouldn’t have more power or control over the other. Read more about what makes a healthy relationship.

What does the law say?

There are some circumstances where it is illegal for someone older to have a relationship with someone younger than them, this is what the law says about age, relationships, and sexual activity:

  • The law says you can consent to most kinds of sexual activity from age 16.
  • If you’re aged 12 or under, the law says it’s not possible for you to consent to any kind of sexual activity, and so no one is allowed to have sex with you or touch you in a sexual way. This is to protect you. It would never be your fault if someone did this to you – even if you agreed to it or went along with it.
  • If you’re aged 13, 14 or 15, the law says that no one aged 16 or above is allowed to have sex with you or touch you in a sexual way, even if you consent.
  • If both people are aged 13, 14, or 15, the law says they’re not allowed to have sexual intercourse with each other (where the penis goes inside the vagina, mouth or anus) or oral sex (where the mouth touches the vagina, anus or penis.)
  • Young people aged 13, 14 or 15 can consent to other things like touching and kissing with each other. But it’s really important that there’s no pressure - it’s only consent if you feel ready and freely choose to do something, without being pressured. 
  • If you’re under the age of 18, it’s illegal for anyone to take, have or pressure you for a sexual photo of you, including sharing sexual images. The law makes an exception if all of the following is true:
    • pictures are taken and shared consensually (you have agreed with each other that you are both happy and comfortable doing this - remember, either of you can say no at any time, and can ask each other to delete images)
    • between people in an established relationship (like a long-term relationship)
    • you are over 16
    • and the pictures are not shared with anyone else.
  • If you are under 18 and the older person is someone that is in a position of power, for example, is someone who can tell you what to do, like a teacher or a carer, it is illegal for this person to have sexual contact or start a relationship with you.

Find out more about healthy relationships