Sex in Ireland - Think Before You Take the Final Step

Getting to Know the Irish Really Close - Without Unwanted Consequences

And what's your sexy Irish secret?
Bernd Biege

Everything you always wanted to know about sex in Ireland but were afraid to ask? Well, Woody might have made this claim, but we'll exclude some of his themes (like inter-species relationships), so let us just stick with "The Most Important Things a Tourist Might Want to Know About Sex in Ireland". Here's a short guide to what is legal, what should be considered, and where you are entering really murky territory.

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.

This is not a handy guide how to get some, but just a series of guidelines on how to stay safe (in legal and other terms). Because let's be honest, sexual activity may be part of a vacation. Especially for the solo traveler. But sometimes it is better to stop and think before you get your kit off ...

What Is the Age of Consent in Ireland?

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.

But he or she looked older? Well, you may argue that you honestly believed that the minor was already old enough. Whether this will be a successful defense remains to be decided, as the court will then consider whether or not that belief was reasonable.

Generally speaking, this defense is not very successful.

And also keep in mind that it is not valid a defense (even if proven beyond doubt) that the minor consented to the sexual act.

The important bit - if a prospective sexual partner may appear to be below 17 (in the Republic, 16 in Northern Ireland), just walk away. We all know that gauging the age of teenagers may be hard at times, so better err on the side of caution before you get prosecuted for what is commonly called "statutory rape".

Is the Age of Consent Gender-Specific in Ireland?

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 in Ireland?

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. And as long as both walk away from the activity alive.

So whether you are involved in heterosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, group, sadomasochistic, or any other activity is completely irrelevant. You might even re-enact Burt Reynold's strange fetishism in the movie "Striptease" (great book, by the way, even though the film is deeply flawed).

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.

Does There Always Have to Be Consent?

You gotta be kiddin', right? Sex without consent is rape, under any circumstances. And trying to initiate a sexual relationship without consent, but by physical or psychological pressure, is sexual assault at least. You'll be looking at a jail term up to and including life for this. And you also may want to consider that rapists are generally not Mr. Popular in Irish prisons too. So, yes, you'd do best to take "No!" as a final answer.

At this point it might also be worth mentioning that the law includes special (harsh) provisions for those trying to start an unlawful sexual relationship as a person in authority, as a near relative, or with a mentally or physically impaired person. It is not necessary to go into details here.

What About Taking ... er ... Precautions?

So she tells you she's on the pill? Or he tells you he has had the snip? Fair enough, but you should nonetheless be wary before plunging in. Because it might be a lie. And, what is more important, neither prevents the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Always use a condom when engaging in penetrative sexual activity with a stranger.

Even if you can't be pregnant, a search on internet news sites for "sexually transmitted diseases Ireland" will have you running for the nearest dispenser or chemist. To cut to the chase: STDs are on the rise in Ireland and you are running a great risk of bringing a highly undesirable souvenir home with you.

But I Heard There's No Contraception in Ireland?

Rubbish ... 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.

Just Out of Curiosity... Prostitution? Not That I Ever...

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.

As an Open-Minded Couple, We Would Like to...

Yes, there are group activities you may join in, from swinging to dogging nothing is unknown in Ireland. It only happens in very remote places or behind firmly closed and innocuous looking doors. Nothing like the far more open "scene" in Continental Europe, for instance.

But you should be aware that many a remote parking area known for nightly activities of the sexual kind is also attracting trolls - gang rapes and violence are not unheard of (even though the victims might just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time).

So, unless you are really desperate to spice up your sex life on an Irish vacation, you might be better off engaging in these activities in an environment you know.

What Sex Is Forbidden in Ireland?

Anything that does not involve consenting adults of the same species - as in nearly every other country of the world you'll better refrain from child sex, sex with animals and so on. But that should go without saying, shouldn't it?