More than half of young people ‘confused’ about sexual consent - report

Repurcussions and fear of saying ‘no’ was mentioned by some of those surveyed

More than half of young people are “confused” about sexual consent and more than a quarter are getting their information on it online, including by watching pornography a survey published on Friday indicates.

The report, Consent and the Youth Sector: What Do We Know? is published by the National Youth Council of Ireland, in conjunction with the HSE and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It examines youth workers' experiences of talking to young people about consent drawing on data from 255 online respondents and five focus-groups with 29 people working in the youth sector.

“Over 58 per cent stated that many of the young people they work with do not understand what the term consent means as well as some of the language used in relation to consent,” says the report.

Confusion centres around whether or not consent is implied simply by being in a relationship; or consent can be withdrawn during sexual activity; if consent must be verbalised, and if consent is about sex only or other aspects of relationships.


“There was also a lack of confidence on the part of some young people to communicate their preferences in relation to sexual activity. Some young people felt peer pressured to engage in sexual activity and [CONCERN ABOUT]this is impacting on their ability to address the concept of consent.”

Confidence and communication issues were noted by almost a quarter (23 per cent).

“Some said that some young people ‘wouldn’t have the confidence to talk about it first in a relationship’.” They said young people could be confused about how or when to ask for consent, citing shyness or not having the language.

“The fear of saying ‘No’ was also mentioned as were the repercussions of this which included being judged, name-called and feeling or fearing rejection.”

One worker commented: “If they (young people) didn’t want to do anything they would be seen as a frigid and it was more important to put the other person’s needs before their own.” This was particularly a pressure felt by young women.

Sources for learning about consent included peers (60 per cent), media (34 per cent), schools (29 per cent), online sites including pornography (27 per cent) as well as youth organisations and family. Concerns in the report about peers being the main source of information included likely inaccuracies and the risk of associated peer pressure.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times