Sex and alcohol are prevalent features in today’s society with lots of Irish folk experiencing booze-fuelled nights of heated passion – but what about consent?

New research into youth sexual behaviour, consent and alcohol was commissioned by the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) and undertaken by Dr Pádraig MacNeela and his team at the National University of Ireland in Galway (NUI).

From March to December 2013 university students took part in a research project entitled ‘Young people, alcohol and sex: What’s consent got to do with it?’

The research conducted explored how attitudes towards alcohol impacted on people’s judgement towards consent to sexual activity.

RCNI Executive Director Fiona Neary said: “The young people who took part in this research told us they were wholly unprepared for the task of negotiating sexual consent and thus were at risk of sexual violence.”

Forty-four students (both male and female) took part in single sex focus groups while a further 143 students took part in an online survey.

Through the information gathered, Dr MacNeela and his team discovered that many students had been/ were in a position where there was an increased risk of sexual violence because of the involvement of alcohol. Alcohol appeared to make the situation much more complicated while also restricting the options available to the parties involved.

The report demonstrated young people’s inability to speak about sex let alone negotiate consent in alcohol driven situations. It appeared, because of Irelands’ binge-drinking culture, that sexual crimes were rarely reported to the appropriate authoritarian figures.

Findings also concluded that sex in general is largely unspoken while alcohol consumption is deemed to be a facilitator of the majority of sexual hook ups.

Findings furthermore revealed that according to students sexual violence other than vaginal rape of a female by a male was difficult to name and that the lack of education on sexual consent and alcohol contributed to sexual violence among young people.  

Non-consenting sexual activity proved to be quite unacceptable to both males and females alike taking part.

The report also found that students believed consent is expected to follow a highly gender stereotyped, heterosexual relationship model with the male sex urge occupying a prominent position.

Speaking about the latest findings Ms Neary commented: “The latest research was undertaken to address a gap in our evidence base regarding attitudes and sexual consent within a culture where alcohol is so central to socialising and mediating relationships.”