Sex in Ireland - How to Stay Safe and Legal

sexy lingerie shop window in Ireland

Bernd Biege

Everything you always wanted to know about sex in Ireland but were afraid to ask? Here's a short guide to what is legal, what should be considered, and where you are entering really murky territory. Because let's be honest, sexual activity may be part of a vacation. 

One word of advance warning - this article is written with an adult audience in mind, will touch only upon the main points of law as they apply to adults, and will use language that might be too explicit for the more puritan readers.

You have been warned.

Age of Consent

First things first: When is it legal to engage in sexual activity in Ireland? The laws in both the Republic and Northern Ireland might be a bit confusing. And might be not the same as you are used to at home. Well, truth be told, they are even not the same on both sides of the border:

  • In the Republic of Ireland, it is a criminal offense to engage (or even attempt to engage) in a sexual act with a minor under 17 years.
  • In Northern Ireland, the age of consent is lower, the UK-wide minimum age of 16 was adopted.

Is the Age of Consent Gender-Specific?

No, it is not - the law both in the Republic and Northern Ireland addresses this as a gender-neutral theme. Which brings us to another question...

Is Non-Heterosexual Sex Legal?

Yes, in Ireland, there are no longer any restrictions on any sexual practices between consenting adults (above the age of consent, in this context), as long as they are consenting without any pressure brought to bear on them.

Behind closed doors

Behind Closed Doors Only?

Yes... sexual activity in public is generally frowned upon and, depending on circumstances, might even see two consenting adults in front of a judge for causing an outrage. "Public indecency" is a slippery concept, but having sex in broad daylight in Dublin's Saint Stephen's Green would certainly fit the bill.

Contraception in Ireland

There is contraception in Ireland and it is freely available. You can buy condoms from dispensers in many toilets (though they may be rarer in female toilets, be warned) or at any chemist or pharmacy. Even the supermarkets stock them, and it might be taken as a sign how far Ireland has moved with the times that there are different tastes available and that an apparently popular (as in "sold in many places") combo-pack includes a vibrating "cock ring"... batteries included.

And even if something goes wrong (or you liked the risky life), the "morning after pill" is widely available in both the Republic and Northern Ireland from either a doctor's surgery, family planning clinics, or even pharmacists.

Prostitution?

Yes, there are male and female sex workers in Ireland. No, there are no clearly discernible "red light districts". And the law is slightly strange, and may soon change.

Prostitution (often referred to as the "oldest profession"), taking money for sex, in itself is not an offense. But nearly everything connected to it is. Laws prohibit, for instance, soliciting or importuning another person in a public place for the purpose of prostitution, either as a sex worker or a client.

Loitering for the purpose of prostitution, organizing prostitution, advertising brothels and prostitution, keeping a brothel - all forbidden.

What you will find in existence is occasional street prostitution mainly catering for a motorized clientèle, escort agencies, massage providers, and sex workers advertising on the internet. So, yes, there is prostitution in Ireland but a potential client will need to be fairly determined to actually be able to access the services of a sex worker. And, no, we're not providing hints or links.

A reform of the regulations regarding prostitution is planned, however - making it an offense to purchase, but not to sell, sex. This is commonly called the "Swedish Model" (Sweden criminalized the clients of sex workers in 1999) and often heralded as a cure-all. The jury is still out on the actual effectiveness of this legislation, especially as the often trumpeted main reasons for such a drastic change (e.g. human trafficking, forced prostitution, child prostitution) are already criminal offenses in their own right.