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The crimes defined require the making of an image; they do not apply to sex acts that are not recorded.
For an example of the application of a similar (but state-level) discrepant age of consent for appearing in pornography, see Police blotter: Teens prosecuted for racy photos, CNet News, February 9, 2007.
On the other hand, do the states just appreciate the use of federal funds to take these cases off their hands?
This map shows the female legal age of consent for heterosexual sex in different countries around the world.
Such situations are identified as establishing a federal age of sexual consent.
For details, see the background report, Age Analysis of Recent US Sex Laws. In all three cases, the federal age of consent established is 18. The PROTECT Act, §105(a)(b), establishes an age of consent of 18 for travel into or out of the country or between states for the purpose of a sexual encounter.
Questions of Law The author is not an attorney and poses the following questions in case a reader of this report has the expertise to provide answers or helpful comments.
Have there been any complaints that the federal prosecution of pornography cases invades the states jurisdiction?
Major US federal laws governing sexual activity were passed in the PROTECT Act of 2003 and the Adam Walsh Act of 2006.
There is no exception for marriage, so an American of any age marrying anyone under 18 in another country, even with the blessings of the parents and with a legitimate marriage license from the local jurisdiction, is breaking this law. The PROTECT Act, § 503, makes it a federal crime to make (or possess or post online, etc.) sexy photos or videos that include a person under 18, even if under the relevant state law any activity depicted is legal and even if the photos or videos are made (or possessed or posted, etc.) by the juvenile(s) depicted in them.
This essentially establishes a federal age of consent of 18 with respect to being photographed in a sexual context.
Given these complexities, we can say that different US states grant people the legal authority to agree to various sexual activities at ages ranging from about 14 to 18.
If circumstances give jurisdiction to the federal government, then a federal age of consent of 18 usually applies instead.