Children's charities today condemned a senior police officer who claimed men who had sex with girls of 13 or over should not be classed as paedophiles.
Chief Constable Terry Grange, from Dyfed-Powys Police, said he believed paedophiles should be defined as men who had sex with pre-pubescents.
The closer a child was to the age of 16 - the age of consent - the more of a "grey area" it became, he said.
Mr Grange, who is also a spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers on child protection and managing sex offenders, was criticised by child protection agencies as "misguided" and "irresponsible".
Roger Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said he thought the police officers comments were "unhelpful".
The furore started after Mr Grange gave an interview to the Sunday Times in which he said men who had sex with children should not be classed as paedophiles if their victim was between 13 and 15.
He also told the newspaper that the law on child pornography should apply accordingly.
"It's much more of an issue for me if a child is under 13," he said.
"I think the closer they get to 16, the more it becomes a grey area and I think everyone in the field of dealing with sexual health and sexual activity acknowledges that."
Official Government guidance on prosecution suggests that teenagers who have sex when one is below 16 should not necessary be prosecuted.
Mr Grange said: "You take a look at the circumstances and try to make the right decision for that case.
"It may be nothing, it may be formal warnings, it may be prosecution."
He told the newspaper: "I don't actually personally adhere to the 15-year-old being with a 20-year-old boyfriend being paedophilia, or even if the boyfriend is 30."
But later he sought to clarify his position, insisting he was being very specific in his remarks.
"I was referring to 13, 14 and 15-year-olds (girls) and teenage boys and nothing else," he told BBC News.
Mr Grange said he would endorse the prosecution of any man over the age of 20 who has sex with a girl aged between 13 and 15.
Under 13, the law would consider it rape: "I think if that is how the law defines it, then I would accept that as where paedophilia begins."
But his comments were roundly rejected.
Michele Elliott from children's charity Kidscape, which focuses on bullying and child sexual assault, said: "The definition of a paedophile is a person who is sexually attracted to children.
"In this country we class this as children who are under 16.
"I think he is being irresponsible, we have been having this debate for ages. He seems to be only talking about child protection for those under the age of 13.
"I think he is misguided - it is not a grey area.
"I do understand what he is saying about 18-year-olds having sex with 15-year-olds - that cannot be classed as paedophilia - but the law has to do a broad sweep.
"As for the rest, I disagree with him entirely."
Ms Elliott said she was "really disappointed" that the comments came from the Acpo spokesman for child protection and managing sex offences.
A spokesman for children's charity NCH was equally critical.
"Any proposal by a serving child protection officer to define child pornography as that which only involves children 12-years-old and under - even if presented as a personal opinion - is wholly unhelpful and irresponsible," he said.
"Denial by sexual offenders is often the result of their twisted, distorted and biased thinking, which, arguably, stems from explanations used to excuse their behaviour.
"The comments show a lack of understanding of the wider issues in relation to sexual offenders and the devastating impact sexual abuse has on a young person and on families."
The NSPCC said the age of consent was rightly set at 16 and that it was an offence to have sex with someone younger.
Lib Dem MP Mr Williams said it was important to protect young people because they were open to pressure and exploitation and must be covered by the law.
"By bringing doubt into the issue, I don't think he has helped the issue and he has made it less clear for people," he said.
"I think it is very unhelpful. We are trying to make it clear that young people are very vulnerable, especially to exploitation by older people, and it just isn't helpful at all.
"I think this will cause concern and confusion."Reuse content