What is the correct word/phrase when teenagers engage in a sexual activity but they are younger than 18 years old (the legal age, most of the time worldwide).

  • Teenagers who engage in a sexual activity at illegal age., may be heavily influenced by nude images they have seen on televisionv(let's say).
  • Teenagers who engage in a sexual activity not of legal age.
  • Teenagers who engage in sexual activity not at the legal age.

When I googled it, the results were "age of consent" popping up...

  • Is there some more context? The third point makes sense, and I can get what you are trying to say in all three points. But all of them sound extremely unnatural to me.
    – bobbin
    Jan 6, 2019 at 14:04
  • I've added more info. above. Please check, thx.
    – John Arvin
    Jan 6, 2019 at 14:47
  • 1
    You might consider using minor: "4. countable noun - A minor is a person who is still legally a child." (as opposed to being an adult)
    – user3169
    Jan 6, 2019 at 22:38
  • 1
    BTW, your second and third phrases as written seems like the sexual activity is not of legal age. "Teenagers who engage in sexual activity who are not of legal age." would be better.
    – user3169
    Jan 6, 2019 at 22:41

3 Answers 3


The expression to be of legal age applies to a range of activities and situations. In general it may be described as ** the age at which a person enters into full adult legal rights and responsibilities** (Merriam Webster).

The specific age varies according to the rights concerned - whether sex, alcohol, arms or driving/flying and other licences. It also differs from country to country and, with regard to some rights, within the states/provinces of a country.

Where sex is concerned, certain activities are generally not permitted until those concerned have reached an age where they are thought to be sufficiently informed and responsible - often 16 or 18, although much lower in certain countries and cultures.

This is known as the age of consent and may well be lower than the legal age marking full adult rights and responsibilities.

So the teenagers would need to be at the age of consent to engage lawfully in a sexual act or in sexual activity (defined to exclude petting and other typical behaviour).

If they were too young, they could be said to be below the age of consent, (or specifically where sexual activity is concerned) not at the (required) legal age or not of legal age or below the legal age (but not at illegal age).


  • Oh I see, so these various ways of saying it may be the reason why it has become confusing. Thx
    – John Arvin
    Jan 6, 2019 at 15:03
  • Yes, except that in OP's second example this adjectival element should immediately follow the referent: Teenagers not of legal age who engage in a sexual activity. I think that's because it includes negation, rather than because the other "adjectival" element includes the "explicitly relativising" who, because that same sequence requirement also seems to apply with the alternative "compound noun phrase" Teenagers not of legal age engaging in a sexual activity. Jan 6, 2019 at 15:07
  • In many countries the age of consent and the legal age do not overlap, for instance in the UK the age of consent is 16 but legal age is 18.
    – Sarriesfan
    Jan 6, 2019 at 19:54
  • @Sarriesfan Noted....will amend my answer accordingly Jan 6, 2019 at 23:46

We normally say it rather like this:

You must be of legal age to sign a contract.

That is, the pattern is of legal age + infinitive clause.

They are not of legal age to get married.

You must be of legal age to drive a car.

The age of consent is the age at which a person is legally able to consent to engage in a sexual act.

  • I think the "age of consent" is the most accurate and sounds good to ear, right? Using it would be: Teenagers who engage in a sexual activity not at the age of consent. Is this ok now?
    – John Arvin
    Jan 6, 2019 at 15:01
  • 1
    Prefer below the age of consent Jan 6, 2019 at 15:03
  • 1
    Before or below the age of consent. "At what age can teenagers begin to have sex legally?"
    – TimR
    Jan 6, 2019 at 15:16

As well as below the legal age (for things in general, like alcohol or adopting) and below the age of consent (specifically for sex), you can refer to people below the age of 18 as minors.

engage in sexual activity as minors.

Although in this case, it's a little redundant, as teenagers are usually minors.

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