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Sex, Alcohol and the Law

Monday, February 2, 2015


This month we’re looking at what New Zealand law says about sex and alcohol. The law is pretty clear on these issues.

The law doesn’t talk about our personal decisions about drinking - this is something we all need to decide for ourselves.

How old do you have to be to legally consent to sex and what does this mean?

In New Zealand, the legal age to consent to have sex is 16.

It’s an offence to have, or attempt to have, sexual connection or commit indecent acts with anyone under the age of 16.

What is sexual connection?

The law explains exactly what sexual connection is. The Crimes Act 1961 says sexual connection occurs when one person introduces a body part or object into the genitalia or anus of another person, or one person’s mouth or tongue touches another person’s genitalia or anus.

What if both people are under the age of 16?

If you’re both aged between 12 and 15 and a complaint is laid with police, the police will look at each situation on a case by case basis.

But consent will never be used as a defence for someone who has, or tries to have, sexual connection or commits indecent actions with a person under the age of 12. You might have heard this kind of situation described as statutory rape.

What is consent?

Consent is when both people say and show ‘yes’ to an activity and sexual activity without consent is illegal.

If a person is pressured, forced, blackmailed or tricked into having sex, they are not giving consent. It is the responsibility of the person initiating sexual activity to get consent from their partner.

Even if a person agrees to sex beforehand, they can change their mind at any time. Even if they’ve had sex with you before, they can still change their mind whenever they want to.

If you’re in any doubt about whether your partner is consenting - you should stop.

We wrote a great article with images about what consent means last year 

Is it illegal to have sex with someone who is wasted on drugs or alcohol?

Yes, if a person is too drunk, or intoxicated, by alcohol and/or drugs and is unable to consent to sexual activity, it is illegal to have sex with them. The law calls this stupefied - when someone is this intoxicated.

If you’re initiating sex with someone who is more drunk than you, you need to get clear consent from them or stop sexual activity all together if they are way too drunk.

Some signs of someone being too drunk are:

  • Loss of balance
  • Slurring their words 
  • Being slow to react.

Check out this short video about how to deal with a drunk person passed out on the couch – in this case a women. 

Can anyone go to a sexual health service?

Yes, anyone of any age has the right to access sexual health services, information and advice. This includes:

  • Contraception
  • The emergency contraceptive pill (ECP)
  • Testing and treatment for sexually transmissible infections (STIs) 
  • Pregnancy care
  • Abortion.

Your parents or caregivers won’t be told about your access to these services, unless you decide to tell them. All of these services are confidential, including abortion.

If a nurse or doctor thinks you are unsafe or in serious danger, staff at the clinic may talk to other organisations who can help to keep you safe.

If you’ve been to a Family Planning Clinic, you might have seen this sign? It explains our position on confidentiality.

Feature Sex Alcohol and the Law Feb 2015

Can someone drink alcohol under the age of 18?

If you’re under 18 you can have a drink if the alcohol has been given to you in a responsible manner by:

  • your parents or legal guardian 
  • a person who has the express consent of your parent or legal guardian.

There are strict penalties around supplying alcohol to minors and people can be fined up to $2,000 if they don’t follow this law.

Keep yourself safe

It is important to be safe and look after yourself and your friends around alcohol and drugs.

Read more about taking care of yourself

Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.

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