Sex, Sexuality & Gender Issues in the US

This guide was written by Francine Carrel, Assistant Editor of Guides.Global (office@guides.global).

It was written on 26 October 2016. The law and practice in the US change all the time. Our guides are updated as frequently as possible - typically every three years - but may be out of date.

Our guides are prepared by professionals from many countries. They are, of necessity, both brief and general and can take no account of your personal circumstances. They are intended to be a good introduction to the subject BUT ARE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PROPER PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, which our contributors will usually be happy to provide upon request.

The advice and opinions contained in the guides are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Guides.Global.

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The scope of this guide

This guide looks at the age of consent, gender equality, abortion laws, gay rights and transgender rights in the US.


While the US is a developed nation - and one that is moving towards more progressive policies when it comes to gender and sexual equality - there are still some issues when it comes to sex and gender.

Both legislation and attitudes vary widely from state to state.

Age of consent in the US

The age of consent for sex is determined on a state level, so check our state guides.

Throughout the United States, the age of consent is between 16-18.

Since 2015, all age of consent laws are gender-symmetric (historically, they mainly applied when the female was younger than the male).

Gender equality in the US

The 2015 Gender Gap Index from the World Economic Forum puts the US at 28 out of 145 countries for gender equality.

According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), the gender wage gap in the United States currently sits at 20% - meaning that female full-time workers earn 80 cents for every dollar male full-time workers earn.

This pay gap has been put down to many factors including discrimination (unwillingness to hire or promote women) and career segregation (female-dominated professions often pay less than male-dominated professions).

IWPR estimate that, at the current slow rate of progress, the US will not reach pay parity until 2059.

Wallethub has released a 2016 index ranking the 50 states by equality for women - with 50 being the least equal. See map below.

Source: WalletHub

Women in politics

Look at the Center for Women and Politics' website for more information.

Abortion laws in the US

Abortion is legal in the US, following the landmark Roe Vs. Wade decision in 1973.

The ease of getting an abortion, the circumstances in which a woman is allowed one, and the point in a pregnancy at which abortion becomes illegal varies from state to state.

Maternity and paternity leave in the US

US legislation makes provision for 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents under the Family and Medical Leave Act. This is a very small allowance compared to most other countries (see below). A few states have more generous laws.

Wannabe-parents thinking of moving to the US should make sure that their employer offers an acceptable leave allowance and some form of wage compensation.

maternity leave globally

Gay rights & discrimination in the US

Gay marriage has been legal across the US since 2015, but the country's populace hasn't shown overwhelming support for it, although attitudes are changing (see below, from the Pew Research Center).

Sexual activity between people of the same gender is legal in the US.

Other issues that affect homosexual couples (including adoption and protection against discrimination) vary by state. Check our our state guides or use this interactive map from Human Rights Campaign for state-by-state information.

The age of consent for homosexual people is the same as for heterosexual people in most states - the only exceptions being Missouri and Oklahoma.

Homosexual people can serve openly in the United States military. The 'don't ask, don't tell' policy is no longer in effect.

According to the FBI, in 2014 (the latest data available as of October 2016) there were 5,462 reported hate crimes with a single-bias motive. Of these, 18.6% were because of sexual orientation.

Transgender rights & discrimination in the US

A person can legally change their gender on a Federal level in the United States, but only if they are in the process of, or have completed, treatment to physically change their sex. For example, see the requirements to change gender on a passport.

For state-specific things like driving licences, requirements vary - but most states do not require proof of surgery.

Openly transgender people can serve in the US military (since July 2016).

The American Civil Liberties Union has a more thorough list of the laws affecting transgender people in the United States.

According to the FBI, in 2014 (the latest data available as of October 2016) 1.8% of all hate crimes with a single-bias motivation were because of gender identity.

Expats' Tips

Have you had any experience with any of the areas covered in this guide? Share them by emailing office@guides.global


As with so many things in the US, the details are all at the state level. Carefully examine the state you're considering for any 'deal breakers' when it comes to gender, sexuality or gender issues.

Other guides of interest

 Description Link 
US Country Guide
Useful facts and figures about the US
country guide for the US

Readers' Comments


Further information?

I hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact me.

Francine Carrel

26 October 2016


This guide was co-authored by John Howell (Email: John.Howell@Guides.Global or John@jhco.org. Web: www.jhco.org or www.Guides.Global)


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