When can I have sex? What are the ages of consent in the Australian Capital Territory? Who cannot have sex with me?
What you need to know – in brief
It is never okay for any person to have sex with another person who is under 10.
If you are 10-15 years old another person can have sex with you if you agree and (a) they are less than 2 years older than you OR (b) they honestly believe you are at least 16 years old.
Once you turn 16 another person who has also turned 16 can have sex with you if you both agree to it. However, for 16 – 17 year olds, it is illegal for a person who is in a position of care or authority over you to have sex with you unless (a) they are less than 2 years older than you OR (b) they honestly believe that you were at least 18 years old. The carer/ supervisor can be charged with a serious criminal offence.
If you feel unsure about someone’s age, it is always good to check.
When the law is broken, the police and courts may get involved.
There are services that can help you with how you’re feeling, safe sex, relationships, sexual abuse and the law.
What you need to know – in full
15 year old Maddy (not her real name) from the ACT sent a Lawmail to us asking is it against the law to have sex with my 19 year old girlfriend?
We advised Maddy that she is under the general age of consent for sex in the ACT (there are multiple ages of consent in the ACT and they apply equally to straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual sex and to people of all genders). She was told that even if she is willing to have sex with her girlfriend, it is still against the law for her girlfriend to have sex with her. Her girlfriend (not Maddy) could face a serious criminal charge, jail and be placed on the sex offender register. Maddy was also told that once she turns 16, she and her girlfriend can have sex legally in the ACT. Maddy was also given referrals to local services she could contact if she wanted to discuss safe sex.
In the ACT, there are a few different ages of consent imposing limitations on when and with who you can have sex. They exist to balance your human right to choose when and with who you will have sex and your human right, as a child or young person, to be protected from sexual abuse, particularly by adults. If you have been sexually abused, the experience and impact of that will be different for you than for anyone else, but whatever your reaction, it is a normal response to an extreme situation. You are not to blame. Please also see our ACT pages on Sexual Assault and Child Abuse.
On this page, sex means when a penis is fully or partially inside another person’s vagina, anus or mouth AND ALSO when another part of a person’s body (e.g. finger, tongue) or an object is fully or partially inside another person’s vagina or anus. It also includes oral sex performed on males and females.
So, sex here means sexual penetration and oral sex. We are not talking here about kissing or touching that does not involve a person’s vagina, penis or anus. We are also not talking here about the additional laws applying to sex that is filmed, photographed or distributed online or by phone (for that see our Sexting page).
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. So even if you say yes to sex, a person who has sex with you can be charged with a serious criminal offence, jailed and placed on the sex offender register.
In the ACT, there are a few different ages of consent imposing limitations on when and with who you can have sex, explained below.
- When you are under 10 years old, no one is allowed to have sex with you. (A person who had sex with a child under 10 has committed serious crimes, called sexual abuse and sexual intercourse with young person, and can be charged, jailed and placed on the sex offender register).
- When you are 10 to 15 years old, a person can legally have sex with you only if: (1) you agree to it AND they were less than 2 years older than you, OR (2) you agree to it AND they honestly believed that you were 16 or older. (A person who had sex with a 10 to 15 year old outside of these limited situations has committed serious crimes, called sexual abuse and sexual intercourse with a young person, and can be charged, jailed and placed on the sex offender register).
- When you are 16 years or older, another person 16 or older can have sex with you if you both agree to it. (A person who had sex with someone who is 16 or older (but who did not agree) has committed a serious crime, called sexual assault, and can be charged and jailed).
- While you are under 18, however, it is also a serious criminal offence for someone who is caring for you, supervising you or has authority over you, like a teacher, sports coach, youth worker, counsellor, foster carer, religious instructor, health professional, police officer or employer to have sex with you unless you agree to it AND (a) they are less than 2 years older than you OR you agree to it AND (b) they honestly believe that you were at least 18 years old. They can be charged, jailed and placed on the sex offender register.
- No member of your family is allowed to have sex with you. (A person who had sex with a child or young person who is a member of their family has committed a serious crime, called incest and possibly also rape and sexual penetration of a child, and can be charged, jailed and placed on the sex offender register).
Agree (consent) means free agreement to sex. It is more than merely submitting to sex. A person does not freely agree to sex when: (1) submitting because of force or fear; OR (2) they are being restrained against their wishes; OR (3) they are asleep, unconscious or severely affected by alcohol or another drug; OR (4) mistakenly believing that the sex is for medical or hygienic purposes. There are other ways too in which the law says that a person has not freely agreed to sex.
Family means your parent, step-parent, your parent’s partner, your grandparent, brother, sister, half- brother or half-sister.
Sex offender register: All adults who have committed a sex crime involving a child are automatically included in a register of sex offenders. Child sex offenders under the age of 18 years may also be included in the register by a court order. 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 also prevented from engaging in child-related employment.
Deciding to have sex with someone is a big step. The decision is up to you. If you feel pressured to have sex, or if you’re not sure, you can say no. The other person must respect your choice. If they physically try to have sex with you without your agreement, they may be committing a crime.
If you are thinking about having sex, you need to be aware of the risks that are involved which include getting a sexually transmissible infection (STI) like chlamydia and blood borne viruses like HIV. Another risk is unplanned pregnancy.
For information about how you can protect yourself against the risks of unsafe sex, contact Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT or visit their website (see contacts below).
All the services below are free for young people and the 1800 numbers operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
They are not the police or a government department, and you do not have to give them your name if you don’t want to.
- To talk to someone about relationship issues that you are experiencing or if you are unclear about where to draw the line between what's ok and what's not, please call 1800 MYLINE (1800 695 463)
- If you have been sexually abused or assaulted you could call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) - a National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service. This is a 24 hour counselling, support and referral service for anyone whose life has been impacted by sexual, domestic or family violence, or you can visit them at: www.1800respect.org.au.
- Family Planning Clinics provide sexual and reproductive healthcare (safe sex) services and advice. Call Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT on 02 6247 3077 or visit their website.
This page was last reviewed in December 2013.