Information about sexual offences
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Sexual offences

The current law in England and Wales

In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the age of consent for sex between two men and for sex between two women is 16.

Sexual Offences Act 2003

This Act introduced a new offence of 'sexual activity in a public lavatory'. The law applies to sexual activity between straight people and sexual activity between lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.

The Act makes sexual activity in a public place unlawful if it takes place in an area were it is likely other people will be able to see.

The history of criminal convictions against gay men and how to get them removed

Until 1967 anal sex between men (buggery) was illegal. People caught were prosecuted under Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and Section 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956.

The Sexual Offences Act (1967) decriminalised homosexual acts between men over 21 and in private, in England and Wales. Whilst sexual acts between women has never been specifically outlawed in the UK, some prosecutions for indecent assault were made in the past.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994) reduced the age of consent for gay men in England and Wales to 18, and in 2001 to 16.

In May 2004, the Sexual Offences Act (2003) repealed the anti-gay sexual offences of gross indecency and buggery which were deleted from the statutes.

Gross indecency with another man

The offence of gross indecency was introduced in 1885. Whilst there was no set definition of gross indecency in law it was used to prosecute people for a whole range of ‘homosexual acts’ when it could not be proven they’d engaged in buggery. People were charged with the offence originally under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 and subsequently Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956.

Loitering with intent

The police also maliciously prosecuted people for being in an area where they suspected gay men were having sex. Often men were prosecuted under Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 for frequenting with intent (commonly known as loitering with intent).

Military personnel

Members of the armed forces who were prosecuted for the above offences were sometimes charged under separate laws covering the armed forces.

From 1 October 2012 people in England and Wales with convictions and cautions for consensual gay sex, which are no longer unlawful, can apply to the Home Office to have these offences removed from their criminal records.


For further information please contact Stonewall Cymru's Information Service on 08000 502020 or email