With St Patrick’s Day falling on a Saturday this year and the following Monday being a bank holiday, that adds up to a long weekend of festivities. Here at the Sexual Health Centre we’d like to remind you to not neglect your sexual health over the break. Alcohol consumption is synonymous with St Patrick’s Day celebrations and alcohol is known to be associated with risk-taking behaviour, especially among the young. According to the HSE, the link between alcohol use and unintentional and unprotected sex has been well-documented internationally. A major Irish research project over a decade ago identified alcohol as one of the factors that contributed to the incidence of unwanted pregnancies where drinking resulted in the non-use of condoms. Experts from the University of Toronto found in 2011 that for every slight increase in alcohol consumption, a person’s willingness to engage in risky sex got stronger.

Unprotected sex also increases your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and Ireland has been witnessing a surge in STIs in the past number of years. So to help protect against both unplanned pregnancies and STIs we would urge everyone to carry condoms at all times. Condoms are available for free here at the centre so drop into us on St Peters St any time between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Sexual consent

While alcohol can inhibit sexual pleasure and make safer sex more difficult, it can also make people behave in a way that they wouldn’t if they were sober. So try to be responsible and remember too that you remain responsible for your own behaviour, even when under the influence. Sex is about pleasure, fulfilment and fun so don’t do anything you don’t want to do. You can say no to anything you aren’t comfortable with at any time and in any situation – and while ‘no’ means ‘no’, consent is the presence of a ‘yes’, not the absence of a ‘no’.

The findings of NUIG’s ‘Smart Consent’ study last summer pointed to young people’s ambivalence around what constitutes sexual consent, particularly when alcohol is involved. Researchers found that while 86pc of college students agreed that alcohol impacts on the ability to give consent, nearly 40pc also felt a woman could still give consent after drinking heavily. When it comes to sexual consent be aware of the facts: the legal age of consent for having sex in Ireland is 17 years, this means that anyone who has sex with someone under the age of 17 is committing a crime; if a person has sex with another person without their consent it is a crime; and having sexual intercourse with a person without their consent constitutes rape – a person cannot give their consent freely if they are asleep, unconscious or severely impaired due to alcohol or drugs.

Along with a free condom service, we also operate a helpline and email facility here at the Sexual Health Centre so if you have any questions or need any sexual health advice please call us on 021 427 6676 or email us at info@sexualhealthcentre.com. Wishing you all a fun, safe and enjoyable St Patrick’s weekend!