For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, you can contact us here.

Deciding to have sex with someone is an important decision. If you think that you are ready to have sex, it is important that you are aware of the different laws about how old you have to be to have sex, and to understand what the law means by sex. Before you have sex, you should talk to a health professional about how to practice safe sex and to make sure you are fully aware of the risks of practising unsafe sex.

Remember, it is NEVER ok for someone to force you to have sex without your permission – you have the right to say NO at any time.

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What you need to know – summary

It is never okay for a person to have sex with another person who is under 16 years old.

Once you turn 16, you can legally have sex with another person who is also aged 16 years or older (as long as you both agree to it).

Also, a person in a position of care or authority e.g. a teacher, step-parent, or guardian, a sports coach cannot have sex with a person aged 16-17 years old under their care

What does age of consent mean?

The age of consent is the age at which the law says you can agree (consent) to have sex.

If you are under the age of consent, the law says that you cannot legally agree to have sex, and any person that tries to have sex with you has broken the law.

What does consent mean?

‘Consent’ means giving your free and voluntary agreement to sex. It is never ok for someone to assume you have given consent or to force you to keep going if you want to stop. A person can also withdraw their consent at any time during sex.

A person does not give their consent if they:

  • feel threatened, forced or afraid;
  • are restrained against their wishes;
  • are asleep or unconscious;
  • are affected by alcohol or another drug to the point that they cannot consent;
  • are unable to understand the nature of sexual act;
  • are mistaken about the nature of the act or the identity of the person they are having sex with;
  • believe the sex is for medical or hygienic purposes; or
  • are tricked into having sex

What do we mean by sex?

Sex means:

  1. When a penis or an object is fully or partially inside another person’s vagina, anus or mouth, or
  2. Any kind of oral sex.

Sex here does not involve kissing or touching if there is no penetration. However, please be aware that other sexual activity that doesn’t technically involve penetration may be considered indecent assault. For more information about these laws please see the Northern Territory page on sexual harassment.

Also, there are also special laws applying to sex that is filmed, photographed or distributed online or by phone, for more information about these laws please see our Northern Territory page on sexting.

When can I have sex in the Northern Territory?

If you are under 16 years old

It is NEVER ok for a person to have sex with a person under 16 years old.

There is one exception to this. If you are aged 14-16 and agree to have sex with someone aged 16 or older and the person believed you were 16 or older, they will not be breaking the law.  

If you are aged 16 to 17 years old

When you are 16 years or older, you can have sex with another person aged 16 or older if you both agree to it.  

However, you cannot have sex with someone who is caring for you, supervising you or has authority over you, like a teacher, sports coach, foster carer, religious instructor, health professional, police officer or employer whilst you are aged 16-17.   

Important Information for all ages

No matter how old you are, it is never ok to have sex with someone without their consent.

If you, or anyone you know, has been sexually abused, the experience and impact of that will be different for everyone. But whatever your reaction, it is a normal response to an extreme situation. You are not to blame. Please also see our Northern Territory pages on sexual assault and child abuse for more information.

If you are confused about the law (it is confusing so don’t worry), please contact us here.

What happens if someone breaks these laws?

If someone is found guilty of breaking the laws around age of consent, they can be charged with a serious criminal offence, sent to jail and placed on a public sex offender registry.

The public sex offender registry is a list of adults who have been found guilty of a sex crime. Registered sex offenders are required to keep the police informed about their personal details and whereabouts. They are also required to report the names and ages of children with whom they live or have regular contact.

Registered sex offenders are not allowed to work in any child-related employment.

Talking about safe sex

Deciding to have sex with someone is a big step. Remember that the decision is up to you. If you feel pressured to have sex, or if you’re not sure you want to, you can say no. The other person must respect your choice. If they try to have sex with you without your agreement, they are committing a crime.

If you are thinking about having sex, please be aware of the risks that are involved with unsafe or unprotected sex. These risks include:

  • getting a sexually transmissible infection (STI) like chlamydia;
  • getting a blood borne virus like HIV; or
  • unplanned pregnancy.

For information about how you can protect yourself against the risks of unsafe sex, you contact Family Planning Northern Territory on (08) 8948 0144 or visit their website.

Important contacts

You can contact any of the services to talk about anything relating to sex including safe sex, if you’re not sure what is considered normal in a relationship, or if you are worried you might be pregnant.

You do not have to give them your name if you don’t want to.

  • Kids Helpline provides free and private counselling to young people up to age 25. You can talk to them about anything that’s affecting you at any time, day or night on 1800 55 1800.
  • 1800Respect is a national helpline, providing counselling, information and support. You can call them on 1800 737 732, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • 1800MYLINE is a national helpline for sexual assault, family & domestic violence, available 24/7. They provide counselling, advice, or referrals to helpful services. You can call them on 1800 695 463, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Family Planning Welfare NT is a clinic that provides sexual healthcare (safe sex) services and advice. You can call them on (08) 8948 0144 (Darwin) from Monday to Friday, between 9am and 4pm. They also have a drop-in Youth Clinic with varying hours announced on their site.

Helpful resources

You can check out these helpful resources for more information on age of consent:

If you have a legal question, and you are aged 24 or under, you can contact us here.

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