Almost one in five secondary school boys are 'neutral' on the issue of consent being required for sexual activity, a new survey has found.
A survey by NUI Galway’s Active* Consent programme, based on the views of 613 post-primary students, found 93% of females and 79% of males agree that consent is always required for sexual activity.
However, 18% of boys surveyed are neutral as to whether consent is always required, with 3% disagreeing, versus 6% of females who were neutral and 1% disagreeing.
The survey also found that 62% agreed that consent for sexual activity always needed to be verbal.
It found that just over half of all respondents agree their peers believe consent is always required for sexual activity, while 37% agree their peers think consent should always be verbal.
The report, which will be launched by the Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon, found: "There was a significant gender gap in personal comfort with being sexually intimate with someone they had just met at a party, with females less likely to be comfortable than males. While 7% of females were comfortable with intimate touching, 51% of males said they were comfortable.
"There was also a significant gap among females between their personal levels of comfort with being intimate with someone they just met at a party, and how comfortable they thought other teenagers were with it.
"While 7% of females were comfortable with intimate touching, 42% of females agreed that other teenagers would be comfortable with this."
Dr Pádraig MacNeela, Active* Consent programme co-lead, NUI Galway, said the 18% of teen boys who were neutral as to consent meant they either had no opinion or may have been in two minds" about it, meaning they were open to persuasion about the requirement for consent.
But he said researchers were concerned about the propagation of "gendered expectations – that boys are trying to initiate sexual activity and the girl is the "gatekeeper".
"We are worried by that," he said, adding there was also a sense from respondents of a "big reliance on non-verbal cues", such as smiles.
The programme begins with consent workshops and those behind it will be adding other elements such as parental webinars and teacher training.
Dr MacNeela said the data was there to show that students who undertook the programme finished it with a better understanding of consent and added he hoped it could be considered for broader rollout by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
"I would hope that this kind of material could give people a sense of direction," he said.
Dr Muldoon said: “The Active* Consent programme indicates that we are making progress in confronting what is not only a complicated issue, but an extremely important one for developing positive relationships and reducing sexual harassment.
"The programme will equip secondary school students with self-confidence to speak up if there is something happening that they are not comfortable with.
The survey also found that 98% agree it is okay to say “No, I don’t want to” if you don’t want to have sex and that 92% agree there is a need to talk about sexual consent even in a relationship.
"Nevertheless, being awkward, embarrassed, or being afraid of being judged or ruining the mood emerged as key barriers to consent communication," it said.