The age of consent in Texas is 17 years of age. This means anyone who is 16 or younger cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse. It does not matter that they agreed to have sex or even if they initiated the encounter. Anyone who has sex with someone who is under 17 can be charged with a crime. It is often a felony.
Texas does have a Romeo and Juliet law, however. This carves out an exception for couples who are close in age. If the conditions are met, the older partner can use it to defend against a criminal charge.
1. What is the age of consent in Texas?
In Texas, the legal age of consent is 17.1 Anyone who is still 16 years old or younger cannot legally consent to a sexual act.
Even if someone underage agrees to the act – or even if they initiate it – their consent is not legally binding. It does not count because they are too young to have the capacity to consent. The law does not give minors the power to consent to sexual acts. Their agreement does not make the sexual encounter legal.
2. Why is there an age of consent?
Texas law imposes an age of consent because minors are not mature enough to understand sexual relations. They also cannot appreciate the long-term effects that can come with the decision to have intercourse.
By prohibiting sexual acts with people under 17, Texas law aims to prevent:
- adults from pursuing children or teens for sex,
- unwanted teenage pregnancies, and
- sexually transmitted diseases.
3. What are the crimes for having sex with someone underage?
Depending on the sexual act, the older partner can be charged with some severe crimes, including:
- statutory rape,
- aggravated sexual assault,
- indecency with a child by exposure, and
- indecency with a child by contact.
Convictions for each of these offenses can also require the defendant to register as a sex offender.
3.1. What is statutory rape?
Statutory rape in Texas is the act of knowingly having consensual sex with someone under the age of consent.2 It is a form of sexual assault.
This offense is a second degree felony. Convictions carry:
- up to 10,000 in fines, and/or
- between 2 and 20 years in jail.
3.2. What is aggravated sexual assault?
An aggravated sexual assault is a sexual act, whether consensual or nonconsensual, where:
- there was a serious bodily injury,
- the defendant made the victim fear that they or someone else would be the victim of a violent crime,
- a deadly weapon was used or displayed,
- the defendant acted in concert with someone else,
- a drug was used to impair the victim’s senses or ability to resist, or
- the victim was younger than 14 years old.3
Aggravated sexual assault in Texas is a first degree felony. Convictions carry:
- up to $10,000 in fines, and/or
- between 5 years in jail and a life sentence.
The minimum jail sentence is 25 years if:
- the victim was under 6 years old at the time of the offense, or
- the victim was under 14 and the defendant satisfied at least one other required element for the offense.
Example: 25-year-old Todd has sex with 13-year-old Claire. The minimum jail time would be 5 years for the offense. As soon as Todd brandishes a deadly weapon, the mandatory minimum becomes 25 years in jail.
3.3. What is indecency with a child?
There are 2 ways for an adult to commit the offense of indecency with a child:
- engaging in sexual contact, and
- indecent exposure.4
Both require the victim to be under the age of consent.
Each offense can be committed by an adult who causes the child to initiate the contact or act of exposure.
Sexual contact with a minor is a second degree felony that carries:
- 2 to 20 years in jail, and/or
- up to $10,000 in fines.
Indecent exposure with a child is a third degree felony that carries:
- 2 to 10 years in jail, and/or
- up to $10,000 in fines.
4. What is a Romeo and Juliet law?
Texas has a Romeo and Juliet law that can be used to defend against sex allegations involving an underage victim. It applies to couples who are close in age.
Defendants can make use of this exception if they are charged with statutory rape and:
- the act was consensual,
- the defendant is less than 3 years older than the victim,
- the victim was at least 14, and
- the defendant was not a registered sex offender at the time of the act.
In Texas, this is an affirmative defense. The defendant has the burden of raising and proving it.5
5. What if the couple is married?
If the defendant and his or her underage sexual partner are legally married, it is a defense to a criminal charge.
- Texas Penal Code 22.011(c)(1).
- Texas Penal Code 22.011(a)(2).
- Texas Penal Code 22.021.
- Texas Penal Code 21.11.
- See e.g., Texas Penal Code 21.11(b).