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Consent and sex

Going out with someone can be amazing, but it also gets confusing sometimes, especially when it comes to intimacy and sex.

holding handsIt can be hard to know if the person you’re with wants to get more intimate with you or not. But before you go any further, both of you have to consent.

In Ireland the legal age of consent is 17-years-old for everyone. The person you’re with has to give consent. Non-consensual sexual activity (anything from kissing to penetration) is against the law.

The penalties for rape and sexual assault are severe. The emotional trauma caused to victims of these crimes can last a lifetime. Check sexual assault for more information.

To find out more about the laws surrounding sexual consent contact Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC).

Talk about it

The only way to know for sure whether someone has consented to sex is if they tell you. It can be hard to let people know you’re not interested in going that far. People might look happy about doing something but on the inside they might not be, and don’t know how to tell you they’re uncomfortable. You should ask them and here’s some suggestions on how to do it:

  • Are you happy?
  • Are you comfortable?
  • Is there anything you don’t want to do?
  • Do you want to stop?
  • Do you want to go further?

Body language

Examples of body language that can mean someone isn’t comfortable with what’s going on include:

  • Not responding to your touch
  • Pushing you away
  • Holding their arms tightly around their bodies
  • Turning away from you or hiding their face
  • Stiffening muscles.

If you get a negative or non-committal answer to any of your questions, or if your partner’s body language is negative, then stop what you’re doing and talk to them about it.

Other things you can do

Holding hands, sending flirty texts, kissing, hugging and touching are all ways of being intimate without having sex. You might enjoy kissing, but not feel ready to have sex. Or you might have had sex before but not feel like it every time you kiss or get intimate.

It’s really important to make sure both of you are comfortable with what’s happening. Everyone has the right to say no and to change their mind at any time, regardless of their past experiences.

Slowing down and stopping

Sometimes things move too quickly. Things you can say to slow things down include:

  • ‘I don’t want to go any further than kissing/hugging/touching.’
  • ‘Can we stay like this for while?’
  • ‘Can we slow down?’

It’s OK at any stage to want to stop. Just explain you’re not comfortable. Be clear about saying no. However, saying no when we really mean yes can send mixed messages and confuse the situation. It’s important to treat the word ‘no’ seriously, if we want people to know when we’re sincere about calling a halt.

Getting out of a situation

In a situation where the other person isn’t listening to you and you feel unsafe, you should remove yourself. Saying you need to use the toilet is a way of getting out of the situation, or you could pretend you’re going to vomit. Once you’re away from the situation, find a friend and tell them what’s happened.

However, if the person you’re with physically restrains you, even when you tell them no, they are committing sexual assault. Check sexual assault for more information about what this means.

Drugs, alcohol and sex

Drugs and alcohol can affect people’s ability to make decisions, including whether or not they want to have sex. This means if someone’s really out of it, they can’t give consent.

Having sexual activity with someone when they don’t know what’s going on is considered the same as rape under law. If you see a friend who’s drunk being intimate with someone, you should pull them aside to make sure they know what they’re doing.

If your friend is the one getting intimate with a drunk person, pull them aside too, because they might get themselves into trouble. Check alcohol and other drugs for more information.

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This article was last reviewed on 26 March 2017

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