Theorising Age of Consent Laws

  • Matthew Waites


In this chapter, I introduce a variety of conceptual themes and perspectives required for the analysis of debates over age of consent laws, drawn from sociology, socio-legal studies and social and political theory. The first section begins by exploring sociological approaches to childhood and youth. The chapter then discusses approaches to theorising gender, sexuality, heterosexuality and homosexuality developed in feminist theory, lesbian, gay and queer theory. The meaning of ‘consent’ is discussed, and considered in relation to sexual behaviour. The chapter then introduces discussions over how young people experience sexual behaviour and their ‘competence’ to give consent to participate, and provides an introductory discussion of the appropriate role of law in the regulation of sexual behaviour. The final section explores the concept of citizenship, examining how it has recently been conceptualised by social and political theorists in debates over ‘sexual citizenship’, and how it can be utilised in the analysis of debates over age of consent laws.


Young People Sexual Behaviour Child Sexual Abuse Sexual Identity Emotional Competence 
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© Matthew Waites 2005

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  • Matthew Waites

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