It will surprise no one that young adults say they use alcohol to feel less nervous about sex. A study of student experience and attitudes published last week by researchers at NUI Galway found that 59.2 per cent of men and 66.3 per cent of women felt alcohol eased the way for sexual encounters.
More shocking perhaps, was the finding that 25 per cent of women reported that someone had (or attempted to have) sexual contact with them by using physical force or threatening them with physical harm during their lifetime.
Asked about incidents in the past year, 8 per cent of women and 3 per cent of men said that someone had “sexual contact” with them when they “were unable to provide consent or stop what was happening” because they has “passed out” were “drugged, drunk, incapacitated or asleep”.
This rose to 11 per cent for women who were either certain or “suspected” this had happened. Some 1,300 18- to 25- year-olds at NUIG and UCC were included in the survey.
The issue of consent to sexual activity is an area that clearly needs work. There seems to be a gap between what young men and young women are happy with. Just 22.5 per cent of women said they were comfortable with the idea of casual sexual intercourse, but 53.2 per cent of men were comfortable with it.
Consent to sex is the main issue to tease out, according to Dr Pádraig McNeela of NUI Galway. A series of “smart consent” workshops, aimed at educating students about sexual health and alcohol use will now be rolled out with the support 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.
This particular shade of grey is begging for a solution.