Challenges to consent can include:
- Awkwardness or embarrassment about communicating directly with our partners
- The impact of gender and peer pressure on how we think we or our partners should behave
- The impact of alcohol and/or drugs on our capacity to consent
Awkwardness or embarrassment about communicating directly with our partners
Our research has revealed that some individuals may experience insecurities in communicating openly about consent.
Secondary school students have reported fears that direct and open consent communication might ruin the mood, disappoint, upset or offend their partner or result in being rejected or judged by their partners or their peers.
There can be many reasons why it can be difficult for someone to “just say no” to a sexual advance or to express that they are unsure.
An individual might feel awkward or unsure of what they really want. They might be afraid of damaging the relationship or hurting someone’s feelings or the judgment of their peers. You can learn more about how to approach consent communication in the previous section.
However, there may also be violent and/or abusive dynamics happening between individuals like the use of force, the threat of force, intimidation or a power differential in terms of age, position or other factors. Learn more about the definitions of consent, rape, assault and sexual harassment under Irish law here in relationship to these kinds of circumstances.
The impact of gender norms and peer pressure on how we think we or our partners should behave
When it comes to sex and consent, we are influenced in complicated ways by gender and peer pressure that may shape how we act and what we think we should want.
In terms of gender, we may have taken on board common stereotypes about how men and women are supposed to act when it comes to sex and sexuality. These might include beliefs like men should always “want it” and women should not “want it” too much or that men are responsible for moving sexual encounters forward, and that women should resist up until a certain point or they will seem too eager. And if we don’t identify as male or female and/or heterosexual, these norms are even less useful and potentially more confusing for us as we explore sexualities.
Gender norms also shape how we experience peer pressure. Our research with secondary school and college students has repeatedly found what we call a “social norm gap” between what individuals feel comfortable doing themselves and what they think their peers are comfortable doing.
For example, our recent survey of secondary school students found that while 93% personally agreed that consent is needed for all sexual activities, only 54% agreed that other teenagers felt this way. This gap might result in teenagers assuming other teenagers don’t believe that it is important to talk about consent, which may result in limited direct consent communication. However, most in that age group agree that consent is needed for all sexual activities, which means that individuals would be hopefully open to conversation about consent.
The impact of alcohol and/or drugs on our capacity to consent
An individual’s ability to consent to sexual activity is diminished as soon as they begin consuming alcohol and/or take drugs. This is true even if both partners are consuming alcohol and/or drugs. Ultimately, alcohol and/or drugs reduces decision making skills and capacity. If you are unsure if your partner has the capacity to fully consent to sexual activity, do not proceed. This is regardless of whether you have an established sexual relationship, because consent must be ongoing, mutual and freely-given each and every time. However, if you experience sexual violence while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, this is not your fault-the responsibility is with the perpetrator under Irish law.