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 at this page.

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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 that make it illegal for people (especially adults) to communicate with a young person who is under 17 years old so that they can sexually abuse that young person, or show a young person who is under 17 sexual material (like a film or a picture). 

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

What is sex and sexual activity?

 

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

A sexual act 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 self-penetration – this includes a person penetrating their own vagina, labia majora or anus by any part of their body or any object
  • 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 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 do a sexual activity with another person. If you are under this age, the law says that you cannot legally consent to a sexual act, and any person who does a sexual act with you has broken the law.

In South Australia, the age of consent is 17. If you are 17 years old and above, you can legally engage in sexual acts with another person who is 17 years or older, as long as you both agree to it. 

However, if the other person is in a position of authority over you (including a teacher, parent, carer, religious leader, doctor or employer) then you have to be at least 18 years old to consent to sexual activity with them.

In South Australia, consent to a sexual activity with a person who is between 16 and 17 years old can be a legal defence to a sexual crime if:

  • you are under 17 years old; or
  • you reasonably believed that the other person was at least 17 years old

It is also a crime for persons of all ages to have sexual intercourse with a close family member (including a parent, sibling or grandparent) – even if there is consent.

If you are under 25 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 something 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 this page.

You can 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 sex and consent, they may be convicted of a criminal offence. Sexual offences can carry serious penalties, and a person who has been convicted of a sexual offence may be placed on the Child Sex Offender Register in South Australia.

If you think you might have broken these laws, or you are worried about the police contacting you, you can contact us for free and confidential legal advice. If you think someone else might have broken these laws and them doing so has affected you, please also contact us.  

Thinking about having sex?

 

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 are 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 from the risks of unsafe sex, you can see your GP or visit one of these websites:

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: http://kidshelpline.com.au.

SHINE SA is a sexual and reproductive health clinic and education service for all people living in South Australia. They have clinics in Adelaide and Woodville.

You can call these clinics Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm: 

  • Hyde Street, Adelaide: (08) 7099 5320
  • Woodville: (08) 8300 5300

You can also talk confidentially to a SHINE SA nurse for free on their Sexual Healthline on 1300 883 793, which is open Monday to Friday 9.00am to 12.30pm.

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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