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At what age can I consent to have sex in Ireland?

Learn more about your rights to sex, sexual health and consent in Ireland

Written by Children's Rights Alliance and posted in life

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This factsheet is an extract from the publication Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People published by the Children's Rights Alliance. It is reproduced here with their kind permission. Know Your Rights is a public information project designed to inform everyone, in plain language, of the rights and entitlements children have in Ireland and where to go when they are not respected.

Deciding to have sex is a very personal decision and should be decided first by your own beliefs around relationships and sex and also how comfortable you feel around the other person. When you are making the decision about whether you are ready to have sex think about it seriously. You should feel ready to have sex and not feel pressured by friends or a partner. You should always feel confident and comfortable about your choices and never allow someone to pressure or bully you into an uncomfortable situation. Trust your instinct and gut feeling and if you are not sure what to do talk to a friend or someone you trust.

What is consent to sex?

Consent is when people agree together that they definitely want to have sex, or do any sexual act. This includes kissing and sexual touching. The rules around consent apply no matter your sexual orientation or what gender your sexual partner or partners are.

You can say no at any timeIt is only consent if you give it freely and you are not pressured into saying yes. It is really important to know that even if you initially consent to having sex or engaging in a sexual act, you are absolutely free to change your mind before you start or at any time before it ends. If someone hasn’t said ‘no’ or hasn’t resisted a sexual act, it does not mean that they have given consent.

Some circumstances where a person cannot give free and voluntary consent

When force is used

A person cannot give consent if they:

  • are forced to take part in sexual activity
  • are threatened with force to themselves or to someone else unless they submit to sexual activity
  • have good reason to fear that force may be used against themselves or another person if they do not submit to sexual activity

If a person is asleep or unconscious

  • A person cannot give consent to any sexual activity if they are asleep or unconscious

If a person is under influence of alcohol or drugs

  • A person may not be able to give consent to sexual activity because of the effects of alcohol or another drug that they have taken

If a person is unable to agree

  • A person may not be able to consent to sexual activity due to a physical disability that prevents them from communicating whether or not they agree

If a person is unable to understand

  • A person is not able to give free and voluntary consent to sexual activity if they do not understand the nature and purpose of the act

In a case of mistaken identity

  • A person is not giving consent to sexual activity if they mistake the identity of another person involved in the act (that is if they believe the other person taking part to be a different person)

If another person says so

  • A person cannot give free or voluntary consent to sexual activity if the only form of consent comes from someone else (one person says that another person consents)

If a person cannot leave

  • A person cannot give free and voluntary consent to sexual activity if they are being prevented from leaving against their will for no good reason

Other reasons 

  • There may be other situations where free and voluntary consent to sexual activity cannot be given but these are some of the most common

At what age can I consent to have sex?

Legally, you can consent to sex at 17. This is the same no matter your sexual orientation or what gender your sexual partner or partners are.

The law also recognises that younger people may engage in sexual activity with each other. There is a ‘proximity of age’ defence. This means that if a person has been charged with an offence of engaging in a sexual act with a person between the ages of 15 and 17 years, they can offer the defence ‘proximity of age’. However, all the following conditions must apply:

  • the age difference between the two people must be two years or less
  • the people involved must have agreed to the sexual activity freely and voluntarily
  • neither person must have felt exploited or intimidated
  • neither person may have been in a position of authority

Need more information?

We are here to answer your questions and talk through your options. Our online chat service is for 16 to 25 year olds and is available Monday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm. Chat to us now about your situation.

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Published June 17th2020
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