Majority of students ‘do not think 12 pints makes a person unable to give consent’

More than two-thirds of students do not agree 28 units inhibits sexual consent – study

Irish college students talk about sexual assault, rape and their thoughts on campus culture and consent. Video: Kathleen Harris

More than two-thirds of students do not think 28 standard drinks makes a person too drunk to give sexual consent, a study has found.

As part of a number of investigations into sexual consent among third level students, researchers at NUI Galway carried out an online survey of 753 participants, who were shown two versions of a scenario in which two students go home together after a night out.

One group read a version in which the drinking level was “moderate” – about 14 standard drinks – and the other was shown a “heavy” drinking version, where the characters consumed about 28 units.

According to, 28 standard units is equal to about 12 pints of beer (4 per cent alcohol) or 700ml of spirits (40 per cent).


The scenario as written in the report is included below, with parenthesis indicating where the story differed for the two versions.

The story: Neil and Carol

"Neil is a 21 year-old third year student. One night he was out in a nightclub celebrating the end of the exams with male friends. He and his friends had been celebrating in the pub and drinking since 6pm (1pm). By midnight he had had the equivalent of about 5 (10)pints of beer, when he bumped into Carol, also 21, who is in one of his classes at college. She had also been out celebrating with her friends since the early afternoon.

"She had been drinking vodka (the equivalent of 4 pints (8 pints) of beer altogether). They started talking at the bar. Neil bought Carol a drink. They got on well together and there had been some flirting before in college. He knew that he and Carol lived in the same student accommodation, so he offered to share a taxi with her when the nightclub closed, back to the apartment complex. Neil started kissing Carol and touching her. She moved his hands lower on her body.

"They took a break and had one more drink (three rounds of drinks) before the nightclub ended. In the taxi on the way home at 3am Carol closed her eyes and dozed off for a few minutes. When they got to Carol's apartment, Neil woke Carol up and they went into his flat. He made her tea and put on some music. They were having a good time laughing and joking together.

"He took out a bottle of whiskey and they each had one shot (a few generous shots). Both at this stage were a bit unsteady (and slurring their words), they talked for another while and shared a bottle of Coke (Neil spilled the tea all over the table and Carol nearly fell off her chair getting up to go to the bathroom). Then they went to his couch and started kissing again.

“Soon they had each removed their clothes. Through his actions, Neil made it clear he wanted to have sex with Carol. She asked him to put on a condom first. He did so and they had sex.”


Respondents to the survey were asked a series of questions about the story and answered on a five-point scale of agreement (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly agree). Two-thirds of the sample identified as female, with 34 per cent identifying as male and 0.5 per cent not identifying with either gender category.

Table: SMART consent report 2018
Table: SMART consent report 2018

Results showed 20 per cent considered Carol too drunk to give consent - answering “agree” or “strongly agree” - in the moderate drinking version and 33 per cent thought she was too drunk in the heavy drinking version.

Regarding Neil, 14 per cent of respondents felt he was too drunk to give consent after 14 standard drinks, while 30 per cent thought he was too drunk after 28.

“Even when 28 standard drinks were consumed, 67 per cent of students did not agree that Carol was too drunk to give consent, and 70 per cent of students did not see Neil as unable to give consent,” said the report.

The report noted students did not see the moderate and heavy drinking versions as very different from each other.

According to the research, the overall findings suggest an urgent need to “achieve enhanced awareness among young adults in college of the impact of drinking on the capacity to give consent.”

The study was conducted as part of NUI Galway’s SMART consent research report, published on Tuesday by Minister of State for Education and Skills Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

The report, Are Consent Workshops Sustainable and Feasible in Third Level Institutions?, includes surveys with over 3,500 students conducted at NUIG consent workshops held at four colleges across the Republic.

Dean Ruxton

Dean Ruxton

Dean Ruxton is an Audience Editor at The Irish Times. He also writes the Lost Leads archive series