11% of women students believe they were sexually assaulted

Survey in NUIG and UCC reveals different attitudes between genders to casual sex

More than one in 10 women students at universities in Cork and Galway believe they were sexually assaulted in the past year when drunk or drugged.

The finding has emerged from a major survey of sexual health and alcohol use conducted by researchers at NUI Galway.

In the study of 1,300 18- to 25- year-olds at the Galway campus and University College Cork, 25 per cent of women said they had experienced a sexual assault or attempted assault in their lifetime.

When asked about incidents in the past year, and whether someone had “sexual contact with you when you were unable to provide consent or stop what was happening because you were passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated or asleep”, 8 per cent of women said they were certain this had happened compared to 3 per cent of men.


This rose to 11 per cent for the proportion of women who were either certain or “suspected” this had happened.

Sexual contact was defined as activity ranging from groping to sexual intercourse.

The study also reveals significantly different attitudes between genders towards “hooking up”, defined as intimate behaviour between two people who are not – and have no plans to be – in a relationship.

Women students were found to be far less sanguine about engaging in casual sexual behaviour than the perceived norm for their gender.

Casual sex

Just 22.5 per cent of women said they were comfortable with the idea of casual sexual intercourse – but 42.5 per cent said they believed women in general would have no difficulty with it.

In contrast, 53.2 per cent of men were comfortable with the idea of casual sex, and the perceived norm for their gender was roughly the same at 58.3 per cent.

Only 18.6 per cent of women students said they were comfortable giving oral sex – but almost double this proportion (36.1 per cent) said they believed their peers had no problem engaging in such behaviour.

Lead researcher Dr Pádraig McNeela, lecturer at the School of Psychology, NUI Galway, said the message for women students was they needed to “correct the misperception” about what their peers regarded as acceptable.

The message for men was “you need to hear how unlikely it is for the person you have met to be as interested in these things as you are”.

The study also indicates that young adults use alcohol to feel less nervous about sex: 59.2 per cent of men and 66.3 per cent of women agreed with this statement.

Some 15.4 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women said they believed drinking alcohol before sex improved their sexual performance.

The headline figures were said to be broadly in line with research conducted in the US, where one in five women students report a sexual assault during their time in college.

With some funding from the Irish Research Council, the research team is developing a series of "Smart Consent" workshops.

These are aimed at educating students about sexual health and alcohol use with the supports of students’ unions.

“We wish to promote the idea of consent being active, ongoing, and clearly expressed, as our research suggests that it is currently a grey area for many students,” said Dr McNeela.

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys

Joe Humphreys is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times and writer of the Unthinkable philosophy column