AUSTRALIA (Non-Aboriginal)


IndexAdditional Western Nations → Australia

(See also Aboriginal Australia)


A proposal has been advanced by the New South Wales (Australia) Antidiscrimination Board to establish 14 as the age of consent to sexual relations for both sexes[1]. The current age of consent would be variable for territories but typically 16 for all categories (Graupner, 2000)[2]. Coates (1997)[3] states:


“There is little information available about types of sexual behavior and whether patterns of sexual experimentation have changed. However, anecdotal reporting indicates that Australian children are no different from children in other countries and engage in sexual rehearsal play. This is conventionally curbed by witnessing adults, although enlightened parents will take the opportunity to educate their children about private and public, acceptable and unacceptable, behavior. Many parents will tell their children that it is acceptable to engage in self-pleasuring as long as they confine it to the privacy of the bedroom. It is not customary for children to witness adult sexual interactions nor for children to be initiated in to sexual activity by an adult”.


“Each state and territory, through their respective education authority, has a curriculum that provides for personal development and education in sexuality. These have been developed by experienced educators and offer well-rounded, age-related programs for both primary and secondary education. The implementation of such programs, however, is variable and no child in Australia is guaranteed a consistent and continuing sexuality education”.



“Biology and reproductive sexuality is generally offered before the emotional aspects of human sexuality, although personal safety and the concept of invasion of private “space” is suggested for the 6- and 7-year-olds. Information on gender identity and sexual orientation is suggested for secondary school students at about 15 and 16 years of age”.



“Results of a survey of 2,000 respondents aged 16 to 25 years suggest that adolescents are probably more sexually experienced than their parents were at the same age (McCabe and Collins 1990)[[4]]. Intercourse is occurring at an earlier age than ten years ago and in greater numbers. The mean age of first intercourse is about 16 years, and by the age of 18, nearly 60 percent of young people report that they are sexually active. There is also a reported increase in the number of sexual partners at a given age.

Casual sex is still an important part of adolescent sexual activity, although most sexual experience in adolescents probably occurs in the context of a steady relationship. Explanations for the initiation of sexual intercourse include curiosity, peer pressure, and the need to be loved. The rates of sexual experience are greater in males than in females (Dunne et al 1993[[5]]; Cubis 1992[[6]]). Peer pressure from boys is strong and many young women report that their first experience of intercourse was not a positive one”.


Australian childhood sexual thinking was studied by Goldman and Goldman’s (1981; etc.)[7] comparative work. Goldman and Goldman later (1988)[8] added to these data with a study on behaviour.

Among 308 Year 10 girls (mostly aged 15 or 16) in Sydney, 18% were sexually active, and the mean age at first intercourse was 14.5 years[9]. According to a 1995 study among technical college students, the mean age of first sexual intercourse was 16, range 12-23 (1.2% at age 12, 5.1% at age 13, 14.2% at age 14)[10].



Historical Observations


During “Victorian” days, children’s “sexuality” (finger-sucking, masturbation) was declared unnatural, and a known cause of mental and physical degeneration as well as crime (Kociumbas, 1997)[11]. Kociumbas[12] analyses children’s literature used in Australia in the years prior to 1914, noting the dominant themes of hard work and religious purity, the superstitious treatment of sexuality, and the resultant effects on the development of sex roles among children. In Victoria, Australia the age of sexual consent was raised from 12 to 16 in 1909 (Tyler, 1986[13]; cf. Siedlecky, 2004)[14].







Further references:


  • Nelson, C. & Martin M. H. (Eds., 2003) Sexual Pedagogies: Sex Education in Britain, Australia & America, 1879-2000. New York: Palgrave Macmillan




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Dec 2004


[1] Baker, C. (1983) The “Age of Consent” Controversy: Age and Gender as Social Practice, Austr & New Zeal J Sociol 19,1:96-112

[2] Graupner, H. (2000) Sexual consent: The criminal law in Europe and overseas, Arch Sex Behav 29,5:415-61

[3] Coates, R. (1997) Australia, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum. Vol. 1. Quoted from the online edition

[4] McCabe, M. P., & Collins, J. K. (1990) Dating, Relating and Sex. Sydney: Horwitz Grahame

[5] Dunne, M. et al. (1992-3) HIV Risk & Sexual Behaviour Survey in Australian Secondary Schools. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service

[6] Cubis, J. (1992) Contemporary Trends in Adolescent Sexual Behaviour in Australia, in Kosky, R., Eshkevari, H.S. & Kneebone, G. (Eds.) Breaking Out: New Challenges in Adolescent Mental Health. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council

[7]; Goldman, R. & Goldman, J. (1981) Children’s Sexual Thinking: A Comparative Study of Children Aged 5-15 Years in Australia, the United States of America, England, and Sweden. London: Routledge: & Kegan Paul; Goldman, R. & Goldman, J. (1981) Children’s concepts of why people get married, Austr J Sex, Marr & Fam 2,3: 105-18; Goldman, R. & Goldman, J. (1981) What children want to know about sex, Austr Sci Teachers J 27:61-9; Goldman, R. & Goldman, J. (1981) Children’s perceptions of clothes and nakedness, Genet Psychol Monogr 104:163-85; Goldman, R. & Goldman, J. (1981) Sources of sex information for Australian, English, North American and Swedish children, J Psychol 109:97-108; Goldman, R. & Goldman, J. (1982) Children’s perceptions of length of gestation period, the birth exit, and birth necessity explanations, J Biosoc Sci 14:109-21; Goldman, R. & Goldman, J. (1982) How children perceive the origin of babies and the roles of mothers and fathers in procreation: a cross-national study, Child Developm 53:491-504; Goldman, R. & Goldman, J. (1983) Children’s perceptions of sex differences in babies and adolescents: a cross-national study, Arch Sex Behav 12,4:277-94; Goldman, R. & Goldman, J. (1984) An overview of children’s sexual thinking: a comparative study of Australian, English, North-American and Swedish 5-15-year olds, in Segraves, R. & Haeberle, E. J. (Eds.) Emerging Dimensions of Sexology. New York: Praeger, p57-67; Goldman, J. (1990) Children’s sexual thinking: a research basis for sex education in schools, in Perry, M. E. (Ed.) Handbook of Sexology. Vol. 7. Amsterdam; Elsevier, p211-31. Further work by the authors includes Goldman, R. & Goldman, D. (1988) The prevalence & nature of child sexual abuse in Australia, Austr J Sex, Marr & Fam 9:49-106

[8] Goldman, R. & Goldman, J. (1988) Show Me Yours! Understanding Children’s Sexuality. New York: Viking / Penguin

[9] Kang, M. & Zador, D. (1993) Sexual behavior and contraceptive practices of year 10 schoolgirls in inner metropolitan Sydney, Austr J Marr Fam 14:137-42

[10] Grunseit, A. C. & Richters, J. (1999) Age at first intercourse in an Australian national sample of technical college students, Aust N Z J Publ Health 24:11-6

[11] Kociumbas, J. (1997) Australian Childhood: A History. Sydney: Allen & Unwin

[12] Kociumbas, J. (1986) “What Alyce Learned at Nine”: Sexuality and Sex Roles in Children’s Literature to 1914, Hist Educ Rev [Australia] 15,2:18-36

[13] Tyler, D. (1986) The case of Irene Tuckerman: understanding sexual violence and the protection of women and girls, Victoria 1890-1925, Hist Educ Rev [Australia] 15,2: 52-67

[14] Siedlecky, S. (2004) Girls and Sex: Historical Reflections on the Age of Consent, New Doctor [Doctors Reform Society of Australia] 81:26-7 []