Heterosexuality and the Age of Consent

  • Matthew Waites


This chapter begins my study of the development of age of consent laws in the UK. It first describes the origins of age of consent laws in English law from the thirteenth century, and then focusses on debates surrounding changes in the legal regulation of sexuality in the late nineteenth century, particularly those enacted by the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. I begin by outlining the historical development of the law in relation to childhood and sexual behaviour prior to and during the nineteenth century, and indicate how the consenting subject of legal discourse can be conceptualised with reference to existing legal scholarship. The chapter then focusses on the late nineteenth century, drawing upon parliamentary debates to explore the contestation of an increase in the age of consent for a female to engage in sexual intercourse from 13 to 16, and hence analysing the gendered basis upon which contemporary age of consent law was conceived within a heterosexual framework. The chapter also briefly discusses the regulation of male homosexuality through the new offence of ‘gross indecency’. It thus examines the social attitudes and forms of citizenship structuring age of consent legislation in a period which profoundly shaped the regulation of sexuality in the UK throughout the twentieth century.


Sexual Behaviour Sexual Intercourse Sexual Offence Parliamentary Debate Male Homosexuality 
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© Matthew Waites 2005

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  • Matthew Waites

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