Sex and dating

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

There are generally no laws about when a young person can start dating another young person, but there are lots of laws around doing sexual acts with another person (including online sexual acts). If you think you are ready to start having a sexual relationship with someone, it is important to be aware of the laws that say how old you have to be, what a sexual act is, and what consent is.

Remember, it is NEVER okay for someone to force you to do something sexual without your permission, and you have the right to say NO at any time. For more information about sexual abuse take a look a our page on this topic.

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Dating and relationships

In general, there are no laws that say when a young person can start dating another person (but there are laws about doing sexual activity with another person, which we explain below). 

However, there are laws which make it illegal for people (especially adults) to encourage a young person who is under 16 to engage in a sexual act. These laws can also apply to online relationships. 

If you are worried about a relationship with an adult (including an online relationship), or any communications you are receiving, please contact us for free and confidential advice.

What is sex and sexual activity?


The law says that sexual intercourse is any penetration of a person’s genitalia or anus by any part of the body of another person or any object, or any kind of oral sex.

A sexual act is more broad and can include many different types of activities, such as:

  • sexual intercourse with another person
  • sexual touching – this includes touching over the clothes, touching under the clothes, handjobs and kissing
  • sexual acts that don’t involve touching – this can include masturbating in front of a person or encouraging a person to carry out a sexual act.

Consent is required for any sexual act, not just those involving penetration. 

There are also special laws that apply to recording a sexual activity with another person or sending or receiving sexual pictures or videos. For more information about these laws please see our pages on sexting and image-based abuse.

What is consent?

“Consent” means free and voluntary agreement. It is useful to think of consent as an enthusiastic yes! It is never okay for someone to assume you have given consent or to force you to keep going if you want to stop. You can also change your mind or withdraw your consent at any time. 

Consent is really important, and we recommend you check out our page on consent if you are thinking of having sex or doing something sexual with another person.

What does age of consent mean?

The age of consent is the age at which the law says a person can agree to sexual activity. If you are under the age of consent, the law says that you cannot legally agree to sexual activity, and any person who does something sexual with you has broken the law.

In the NT, the age of consent is 16.

 In the Northern Territory, the age of consent is 16. If you are 16 years old and above, you can legally have sex (or do another sexual activity) with another person who is 16 years or older as long as you both agree to it (and they are not a special carer, like a step-parent, foster carer or teacher).

In most cases it is a crime for a person to do a sexual act with another person who is under 16 years old, and it is always a crime to do a sexual act with a child who is under 14. It is also a crime for a person to have sexual intercourse with a close family member including a parent, child, sibling, grandparent or grandchild – even if there is consent.

If you are 24 or under and you have any questions about these laws, please contact us for free and confidential legal advice here.

If someone has done something that makes you uncomfortable

If someone has done something without your permission or that has made you feel uncomfortable, this may be sexual abuse. This is NEVER okay. For more information about sexual abuse take a look at our web page on sexual abuse.

You can also contact us for free and confidential legal advice here.

What happens if someone breaks these laws?

If someone is found guilty of breaking the laws around age of consent, they can be convicted of a serious criminal offence. Sexual offences can carry serious penalties, and a person who has been convicted of a sexual offence against a child in the Northern Territory may be 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 against a child. Registered sex offenders are required to keep the police informed about any changes to 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.

What happens if someone breaks these laws?

Deciding to start a sexual relationship with someone, or have sex with them, is a big step. It’s important to make sure you feel ready. It’s normal to feel nervous and excited, and it can be helpful to talk to someone about how you are feeling before you decide.

If you feel pressured to do something sexual, or if you’re not sure if you want to, you can say NO. And if you say yes and then decide you no longer want to do something, you can stop at any time. The other person must respect your choice. If they do something sexual with you without your agreement, they may be committing a serious 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;
  • unplanned pregnancy; and
  • unplanned parenthood. 

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

You can also check out Reachout’s page on, Sex and Relationships.

Important contacts

You can contact us here for free and confidential legal advice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You can also contact the services listed below to talk about anything relating to sex including safe sex, what is considered normal in a relationship, or if you are worried you might be pregnant. They are not the police or a government department, and you do not have to give them your name and details if you don’t want to.

You can call the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 for free and private counselling (available 24 hours a day, but there can be a wait to get through). They are happy to talk to young people between the ages of 5-25 years about anything that’s on their mind. You can also email them or chat online at:

Family Planning Northern Territory is a sexual and reproductive health clinic and education service which has clinics in Darwin and Palmerston. You can call the Darwin Head Office on (08) 8948 0144 to make a booking.

Clinic 34 is a specialist sexual health service that provides testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and AIDS and emergency contraceptive options. They have clinics in Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine, Nhulunbuy and Tennant Creek. Phone numbers for each clinic are listed on this website.

1800RESPECT provides free counselling, information and support for people who have experienced sexual assault or domestic and family violence. You can call them on 1800 737 732, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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