How age and mental capacity affect the ability to consent to sexual activity

August 4, 2022
How age and mental capacity affect the ability to consent to sexual activity

Sexual contact with anyone is something that must be agreeable by both parties in order to be legal. When either party doesn’t consent, the contact is likely a criminal matter. There are some individuals who are unable to consent to sexual activities even if they really want to participate. Knowing who these individuals are may help you to avoid legal issues.

One factor that matters is the person’s age. Missouri’s laws are meant to protect children. With this in mind, there are some strict limits about who a person under 18 years of age can consent to sex with:

  • People 17 years of age and older: Can consent to sex with a person who is at least 14 years of age
  • Minors between 14 and 16 years of age: Can consent to sex with a person who is up to 4 years older than them (but never 21 years of age or older)
  • Minors under 14 years of age: Can’t consent to sex with anyone, regardless of the other person’s age

Another factor that determines whether a person can legally consent to sexual activities is their mental state. A person who is incapacitated or has a mental disability that makes it impossible for them to understand sexual activities or the consequences of those actions.

A person who is helpless can’t consent to sexual activities. Because of this, having sexual contact with a person who is intoxicated, in a coma or otherwise unable to move shouldn’t occur. Similarly, sexual activity with someone who suffers from a severe intellectual disability or someone who has a legal guardian is most likely illegal.

Issues relating to consent are often hard to handle in court. With the exception of cases involving an obvious reason, such as age or mental capacity, consent questions can come down to one person’s word against the other person’s because there usually aren’t witnesses to what happened. Discussing the possible defense options with your attorney may help you to determine what direction to take with it.


For personalized legal guidance, call our office at 417-882-9300 or submit this form to schedule a meeting with an attorney.

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