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Tuesday 20 November 2018

Two in five college students believe drunk sex is 'normal and harmless'

Sexual consent report reveals impact of alcohol and porn on student life

(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

A landmark report on sexual consent among university students will lay bare the huge pressure on young people attending third level education institutions.

The nationwide survey of college students will highlight the impact of binge drinking and pornography on the sexual behaviour of young people when they leave their family homes.

The research, led by NUI Galway lecturer Dr Padraig MacNeela, found two in five (40pc) young people who binge drink believe consensual drunk sex is a "normal and harmless" part of college life.

Almost one in five students (18pc) believe that if both partners are drunk and have sex, there is "no way" the man can be accused of sexual assault or rape.

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O'Connor will publish the report in the coming weeks before forming an inter-departmental expert group which will develop new Government policy on consent.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Ms Mitchell O'Connor said she was concerned students, especially young women, are entering university without proper sex education and "coming under pressure" to engage in sexual behaviour before they are ready.

"You have young girls coming out of cosseted homes and cosseted second level schools where they have been helped right through, and then they are arriving into college and we are hearing there are difficulties for students," she said.

The minister said there has been a "huge shift" in public thinking since the #metoo and #timesup campaigns.

The study by Dr MacNeela also found gay and bisexual students are more likely to seek consent before engaging in sexual activity. For instance, 73pc of bisexual students strongly agreed that consent should be obtained before the start of any sexual activity, compared with 68pc of gay respondents and 60pc of heterosexual respondents.

A separate survey, which will feed into the overall report, found almost three-quarters (71pc) male students use pornography at least once a week or more, compared with 14pc of females.

More than a third (34pc) of male and almost a quarter (24pc) of female respondents said they learned how to interact during sex from pornography.

Almost one in five male (19pc) and female (18pc) students said they learned how to initiate sex from watching pornography. One quarter of male (25pc) and 18pc of female student said they learned to communicate verbally during sex from pornography.

Dr MacNeela said it should be a priority to change student attitudes about how alcohol affects competence to give consent when drunk.

As part of his survey, students read a version of a story in which a man and woman had sex during a hook-up after consuming 14 standard drinks (approximately seven pints of beer).

One in five (21pc) students who responded said the female was too drunk to give consent while 13pc said the male was too drunk to give consent.

Students were also given a version of the question in which the man and woman had 30 standard drinks or 15 pints of beer.

In this case, 30pc of students saw the male as being too drunk to give consent to sex, while 34pc of students saw the female as been too drunk to give consent.

"While these figures are higher in the version where the two characters are more drunk, it means a large majority of students still saw them as able to give consent despite having had 30 standard drinks throughout the day," Dr MacNeela said.

The final report will show how consent workshops for third level students can improve attitudes and education among young people.

The study shows how students' understanding of consent greatly improve once they take part in these 'Smart Consent Workshops'.

Just over a quarter (28pc) of students said they had the skills to deal with consent before taking part in a workshop while 60pc said they had the skills after completing the workshop. Before the workshops, 33pc of students agreed you should always assume you don't have consent before sex while this increased to 47pc after taking part in a workshop.

"The workshops are not classes - we know that students do not want a lecture on consent, they already have a good idea of what it is," Mr MacNeela said.

"The workshop helps them to explore their existing knowledge and beliefs, particularly about how alcohol, pressure, and consent communication can shape how consent takes place," he added.

Sunday Independent

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