When adults enter into a relationship, a wide age gap may raise eyebrows, but the couple does not have to worry about what anyone else thinks.  

However, even a small age difference may make a difference in the legality of a sexual relationship if one or both of the individuals are under the age of 16.  

Statutory rape 

The North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault notes that in the case of statutory rape, the law does not concern itself with force or consent, but only on the ages of the two people involved. 

According to AgeofConsent.net, although a 16 year old is a minor, he or she is legally old enough to consent to a sexual relationship with someone 18 or older in North Carolina. A 15 year old cannot be in a consensual sexual relationship with an adult, though, even if he or she claims to be a willing participant. The adult could face prosecution for statutory rape.  

Romeo and Juliet laws 

Many states, including North Carolina, have a so-called Romeo and Juliet law, named after Shakespeare’s teenaged couple, who were 17 and 14. This type of exemption allows two people who are close in age to have a physical relationship without fear of a statutory rape charge.  

In North Carolina, a person may have consensual sexual intercourse with a minor who is 15 or younger if he or she is less than four years older. The circumstances determine whether the person is exempted completely, or if he or she still face charges but may use the close in age exemption as a legal defense in court.