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 will be committing
When can I have sex? What are the ages of consent in Northern 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 16.
For 16–17 year olds, another person 16 or older can have sex with you
if you both agree to it, but it is a serious crime for a person in a
position of care or authority over you to have sex with you and the
carer/supervisor can be charged.
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 Northern Territory sent us a Lawmail 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 Northern Territory (the ages of consent in Northern
Territory 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 Northern Territory. Maddy was also given referrals to
local services she could contact if she wanted to discuss safe sex.
In Northern Territory, 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
Northern Territory 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. Sex also includes a person
conducting oral sex on either a penis or vagina.
So, sex here means sexual penetration – we are not talking here about
kissing or touching that does not involve sexual penetration. 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
Northern Territory 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 Northern Territory, there are a few different ages of consent
imposing limitations on when and with who you can have sex, explained
Who cannot have sex with me?
- When you are under 16 years old, no one is allowed to have
sex with you. (A person who has sex with a child under 16 has committed
serious crimes, called rape and sexual intercourse or gross indecency
involving a child, and can be charged, jailed and placed on the sex
- When you are 14 or 15 years old, and you have sex with a
person over 16, that person may not be charged with a crime if you
agreed to having sex with them, AND if they honestly believed you were
16 years or older. (A person who has sex with a 14 or 15 year old
outside of these limited situations has committed serious crimes, called
rape and sexual intercourse or gross indecency involving a child, 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 rape, and can be charged and jailed).
- While you are under 18, however, it is also a serious crime
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. 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).
If you are confused about the law (it is confusing so don’t worry), please send us a Lawmail.
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. Lawmail can advise you if you have any concerns about free agreement (consent) during sex.
Family means your parent, 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
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 Family Planning Northern Territory 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.
- To talk about anything that’s troubling you at all call the Kids Helpline. This is a very supportive service for people between 5 and 25 years of age. They are available 24 hours on: 1800 55 1800. Or you can email them at: www.kidshelp.com.au/teens/get-help/email-counselling. They also have an online chat service at: www.kidshelp.com.au/teens/get-help/web-counselling.
- Family Planning Clinics provide sexual and reproductive healthcare (safe sex) services and advice. Call Family Planning Northern Territory on 08 8948 0626 or visit their website at: http://www.fpwnt.com.au/. Some of the clinics are just for people under the age of 25.
- For any legal questions you have, send us a Lawmail and
we can give you confidential, free legal advice, information and
referrals to local services. Make sure to include your postcode so we
can provide you with the best referrals.
This page was last reviewed on 15 January 2014.