What does the law say about having sex?
The law makes rules about sex and sexual touching. It says that any sexual touching without your agreement is unlawful.
It also sets age limits for having sex. The age limits are designed to protect you from exploitation by older people.
The law applies to sexual penetration, which includes anything that involves a penis touching a vagina, anus or mouth. It also includes putting an object, or another part of the body into contact with a vagina or anus. The law also applies to touching a person in a sexual way, like touching another person's vagina, penis, anus or breasts.
The law recognises that young people may be curious about their sexuality and may want to explore this with people they like. Having sex is a big step. It is important you feel in control and make decisions that are right for you.
You may want to get advice from someone you trust. If you are thinking about having sex, talk to your doctor or family planning clinic about contraception and sexually transmissible infections.
When can I have sex?
The law says if you are:
- Under 16 - no one can have sex with you or touch you sexually or perform a sexual act in front of you or get you to perform sexual act on them (even if you agree).
The penalties are even more severe if:
There are limited exceptions that apply such as if the person can show that they reasonably believed you were over 16.
- you are under 12
- you are related to the person
- they were your guardian or if
- you were meant to be in the care of that person (like a foster carer or teacher)
- you are intellectually disabled.
- 16 and above - Once you are 16, you can legally have sex with any other person who is 16 or over (unless you are under their care) as long as you both agree to it.
- Under 18 - If you are under 18 and someone has anal sex with you (or you have anal sex with them) they can be charged with a criminal offence. A person may be able to defend themselves against such a charge where you agreed to anal sex and they 'believed on reasonable grounds' that you were 18 or older.
As well as the age limits the law says that two people can't have sex unless they both agree. If you don't agree and someone threatens you or touches you sexually they are breaking the law.
What is sexual assault?
If someone has sex with you or touches you sexually and you don't agree with this, they are breaking the law. They can be charged with a criminal offence. This is the case even if you started having sex or agreed to be touched sexually but then changed your mind.
Forced sexual activity is a criminal offence whether the person who hurts you is someone you know or is a stranger. It is a criminal offence for a teacher, relative or someone who is looking after you to touch you in sexual way or have sex with you.
Sexual assault is never your fault. If you believe that this has happened to you then you may need someone to talk to.
If you have been sexually assaulted you can tell the police who have the job of investigating what happened and potentially criminally charging the person responsible.
What is incest?
Having sex with a close relative, like your brother, sister, mother, uncle, father or grandfather, is called incest. It is still incest even if a person is not related to you by blood but is a close family member like your stepfather. You can't have a sexual relationship with a de facto partner of your father or mother while you are under 18.
Incest is illegal even if you both consent to it. However, if you are forced to take part in incest against your will, you have not broken the law. Only the person who forces you has broken the law.
If you are concerned about something like this happening you may need to find someone that you can talk to.
Acknowledgement - Prepared using fact sheets which are copyright to Lawstuff by the National Children's and Youth Law Centre.