The Government should consider lowering the age of consent for sex to 15, a leading public health expert has said.
Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, has called for a national debate, saying that society sends “confused” signals about when sex is permitted.
His intervention comes against a backdrop of official figures which suggest that up to a third of teenagers have sex before the present age of consent of 16.
Prof Ashton told the Sunday Times that lowering the age by a year could “draw a line in the sand” against sex at 14 or younger.
It would also make it easier for 15-year-olds who are in sexual relationships to obtain contraception or sexual health advice from the NHS.
“Because we are so confused about this and we have kept the age of consent at 16, the 15-year-olds don’t have clear routes to getting some support,” he said.
“My own view is there is an argument for reducing it to 15 but you cannot do it without the public supporting the idea and we need to get a sense of public opinion about this.
“I would not personally argue for 14 but I think we should seriously be looking at 15 so that we can draw a line in the sand and really, as a society, actively discourage sexual involvement under 15. By doing that, you would be able legitimately to organise services to meet the need.”
The Faculty of Public Health, part of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, gives advice to ministers and civil servants although it is independent of government.
David Tucker, head of policy at the NSPCC, said he would be happy to have a debate on the issue but said he would want to see the evidence for Prof Ashton’s claims.
“Has there really been a significant change in the amount of young people having sex over the past 20 or 30 years? If it has changed, then is reducing the age of consent the most sensible way to deal with it?” he told the Sunday Times.