Most young people are 'afraid to say no to sex', study on consent finds

Teens fear being called prude

Laura Lynott

More than half of young people do not know what consent means, a National Youth Council study has shown.

Fifty-eight per cent do not understand the word or how important it is, the report suggested.

The research, based on the accounts of what youth workers hear from young people, showed 23pc had issues dealing with communication and confidence around consent.

A total of 18pc were affected by peer pressure, 12pc by substance use, 12pc by the law, 10pc by relationship status and 5pc by pornography.

Some young people did not know how or when to ask for consent.

Many had a "fear of saying no" and of being "judged", called name or rejected.

Others were afraid of being called a "prude" if they did not engage in sexual activity.

One note in the report stated the case of "a young girl believing her boyfriend can do anything he wants because he is her boyfriend".

The report highlighted pressure from social groups to have sex and a concern about being accepted.

"Some young people try to use sex to gain popularity," the study said.

One focus group participant "commented on the particular pressure young girls experience in this regard and their inability to recognise this and to be able to say no when they don't want to engage in sexual activity, despite their partner's wishes".

Some respondents were concerned about how easy it was to access pornography and the "lack of attention paid to consent".

"Research was based on what youth workers reported they were seeing in their work, with young people aged 10 to 25," the council said.


As a result of its findings, it has published two guides as part of its "Let's talk about consent" study.

The guides provide information on consent and the law, tools to build confidence and communication and guidance for youth workers.

The study may have also highlighted a side issue - that some children may be discussing consent before they are even at the appropriate age.

However, the report noted: "The law says that a person must be 17 years of age to be able to consent in engaging in a sexual act.

"This means that a young person under the age of 17 is not legally old enough to consent to a sexual act, even if they want to."

The study stated that nearly one in four young people lack confidence to communi- cate their desires and dislikes in relation to sexual activity, and 60pc were gaining their knowledge on the issue from peers.

The report recommended a need to develop a training programme on consent for the youth sector and the continuation of the sector to advocate for inclusive and comprehensive sexuality education.

Report author Lisa Harold, of the council's National Youth Health Programme, told the Herald youth workers had reported young people experiencing "blurred lines with communication".

"Some wouldn't have the confidence what to say or a fear of saying 'no' and feeling rejected," she said.