The Facts... without the Lecture

Age of Consent

Barrister Garrett McCormack provided the answers below:

What does consent mean?
Consent means to give permission or to agree. It is very important that both people give consent to have sex before they have sex.

What is the legal age of consent?
The law states that you must be 17 to consent to (or agree to) have sexual intercourse.  The age of consent is the same for males and females.  It is the same for homosexual and heterosexual sex.

What does this law mean?
This means that under the age of 17, you are not legally old enough to consent to sexual intercourse. This means that in certain circumstances, someone who has sex under the age of 17 or with someone else under the age of 17, may be prosecuted by the Gardai.

Why does this law exist?
This law exists to protect people under the age of 17, who are more vulnerable than those of 17 and over. People under the age of 17 are not considered by the law to be able to make the decision to consent to sex. The law aims to protect young people with these guidelines. It also aims to prevent older, more experienced people from taking advantage and influencing the decision of those younger than them.

Does this mean that a couple will go to jail if they have sex under 17?
This question cannot be answered for certain. It depends on a number of factors. A girl under 17 cannot be prosecuted under the legislation. But a boy can strictly speaking be prosecuted for having sex under 17. The Gardai and the Director of Public Prosecutions use their discretion and tend to look at the overall circumstances of a relationship before deciding whether or not to prosecute. The welfare of the young person is always the most important issue, so the law does not aim to punish teenagers unnecessarily.

If both people are under 17, why are boys and girls treated differently?
The law makes this distinction because it does not want to seem to punish pregnancy nor to discourage reporting by female victims of incidents of sexual assault or rape.

If a girl is 17 and the boy is 16, will she get prosecuted?
In this case, the girl may be prosecuted by the Gardai as she is 17. Whether the guards decide to prosecute a criminal offence or not always depends on a number of factors however, such as the circumstances of the case and the evidence at hand.

If a girl is 15 or 16 and the boy is 17, what happens?
A boy aged 17 has reached the age when he can legally have sex. If the girl is 15 or 16 he may be prosecuted for an offence called “defilement”, which in simple terms means having sex with somebody under the age of 17. It is not a defence to this crime to say that the girl involved consented, which means she gave permission and said she wanted to have sex. It can be a defence to show that he genuinely believed she was 17 and legally allowed to have sex.

If the girl is under 15 and the boy is 17 or older, what happens?
In the eyes of the law, it is more serious for an adult to have sex with someone under the age of 15, than someone aged 15 or 16 as those under 15 are even younger and more vulnerable.

Can you buy condoms if you are under the legal age of consent (17)?
Yes. Unlike the law against having sex under 17, there is no law forbidding you from buying condoms under this age. The law does not forbid the sale of condoms to young people in order to encourage safer sex.

Can you get the pill, or other methods of contraception from a doctor, if you are under the legal age of consent (17)?
There is no straightforward answer to this question. Different doctors will treat you differently. If you are under 16, in most cases, the doctor will need the consent of your parents to treat you. If you are 16, some doctors will use their own discretion in prescribing contraception to you, based on their personal assessment of you, your emotional maturity and your ability to make informed decisions in relation to your sexuality. Other doctors will not prescribe contraception for you, even if you are 16, because you are under the age of consent for sexual intercourse. You should talk to your parents or another adult that you trust. You can also talk to your doctor.

Remember, just because the legal age of consent is 17 this does not mean that you are ready to have sex at age 17. Some teenagers use the age of consent as an excuse not to have sex if they are being pressured.