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 South Australia? 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 year olds, another person who is 16 can have sex with you if you both agree to it.
If you are 17 or older, you can legally have sex with another person
who is 17 or older so long as 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 South Australia 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 South Australia (there are multiple ages of consent in South
Australia 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 17, she and her
girlfriend can have sex legally in South Australia. Maddy was also given
referrals to local services she could contact if she wanted to discuss
In South Australia, 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 South
Australia 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.
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
South Australia 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 South Australia, there are a few different ages of consent
imposing limitations on when and with who you can have sex, explained
- When you are under 16 years old, no one is allowed to have
sex with you. (A person who had sex with a child under 17 has committed
serious crimes, called rape and sexual penetration of a child, and can
be charged, jailed and placed on the sex offender register).
- When you are 16 years old, you can legally have sex with another person who is 16 years old if you both agree
to it. (A person who had sex with a 16 year old outside of these
limited situations has committed serious crimes, called rape and sexual
penetration of a child, and can be charged, jailed and placed on the sex offender register unless the person honestly believed that you were 17 or older).
- When you are 17 years old, you can legally have sex with another person who is 17 or older so long as you both agree to it.
- 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. 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 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 SHINE SA (Sexual Health information networking & education SA) 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 SHINE SA on 1800 188 171 or visit their website at: http://www.shinesa.org.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 in December 2013.