Sexual Health

What is sexual health?

Sexual health is a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It is necessary to have a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. Sexual health and well-being are very important to maintain in the LGBT+ community safeguarding from STIs, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.


Consent is where there is free and voluntary agreement to engage in a sexual act with someone else. Consent has to be an active, affirmative permission given by one person to another, which must be communicated (either through words or other conduct) from the person giving consent to the one receiving it. The law protects people in certain situations who are not considered able to give consent, even if they have said “Yes”. For example, a person is not able to give free and voluntary consent if they are under the age of consent, asleep or unconscious. Drugs and alcohol can affect a person’s ability to make clear decisions, including whether or not they want to have sex; this means they can’t give consent.

Legal Age of Consent

The age of consent of sexual activity is seventeen years of age in Republic of Ireland. This means that a young person under the age of 17 is not legally old enough to consent to a sexual act even if they want to. The age of consent is the same for all persons, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Sexual Consent in practice

Giving Consent

Consent to sexual activity needs clear communication to make sure you and your partner understand each other and are in agreement. Giving consent and asking for consent is all about setting your own personal boundaries and respecting those of the other person. It is not okay for an individual to pressurise someone into having sex. It is important to know that even if you consent to a sexual act, you are absolutely free to change your mind before the act begins or at any time before it ends. Being sexually active with someone when they don’t fully understand and agree to what’s going on isn’t consensual sex.

Getting Consent

Many people think they know if their partner is consenting to sex by their behaviour, but in reality, the only sure way to know is if you talk about it and they agree to have sex. It is also important to get ‘active, on-going consent’, even after someone has agreed to have sex with you. You can do this by asking them verbal questions setting your sexual boundaries.

  • Is there anything you don’t want me to do or not do?
  • If they are okay to carry on.
  • Does this feel okay?
  • If they want to change to stop a sexual activity

Sometimes people may feel shy expressing themselves verbally. Another thing to take notice of during sexual activity is whether your partners body language is signaling something positive or negative. If you feel that someone isn’t enjoying something, stop and check in with them to see if they are okay. Examples of body language that can mean someone isn’t comfortable with what is going on may include:

  • Not responding to your touch
  • Looking anxious
  • Pulling or turning away from you
  • Their muscles stiffening

Again, if there is any confusion on your side or you are not sure if your partner wants to carry on then you should stop immediately and have a talk about it.

“My mother said I don’t care what you do, I only want you to be happy, she said ‘don’t bring it home’, but I did and my mother gave her sweet cake, and it was fine after that.”

Safe Sex

Safer sex is a term relating to strategies that minimise the risk of unwanted consequences of sex, such as transferring HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). While most sex acts involve some element of risk, there are precautions that can be taken to ensure we engage in ‘safer sex’.

Safer sex can be practiced through establishing consent, knowing our boundaries, using condoms, communicating needs, desires and STI status and getting tested for HIV/STIs. We encourage you to check out Healthline’s LGBT+ Safe Sex Guide here for more information.

Safe Sex for Gay/Bisexual Men:

Open relationships with gay men are more common than with heterosexual couples. If you are in an open relationship this can increase the risk of sexual diseases therefore it is important to take the precautions listed above. If you are in a gay monogamous relationship it is important to communicate with your partner what boundaries you have, what you’re into and explore what you are comfortable with.

Tips for Gay/Bisexual Men:

  • Using condoms. Condoms still have an important role to play in protecting the sexual health of men against STI’s and HIV.
  • PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a HIV prevention strategy that involves HIV negative people taking ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) before and after sex to dramatically reduce the chances of sexually acquired HIV infection.
  • UVL (undetectable viral load) is the status given to guys that are HIV positive but have such a low level of HIV in their blood that it’s impossible to detect the modern testing. This also means a man with UVL will not transmit HIV to his partners.
  • PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is a drug treatment option that can help prevent the HIV virus from taking hold in your bloodstream. A combination of these can also be used. If you are sexually active, particularly with short–term partners, it is recommended that you get tested for STIs regularly. If you are concerned that you might have an STI go to your GP and get tested to find out for sure.


 Safe Sex for Lesbian and Bisexual Women:

There is a misconception that lesbians and bisexual women don’t generally catch sexually transmitted diseases through shared sexual activity. This is not true, women who have sex with other women can pass on or get STIs. It’s important to know how to protect yourself. Women can catch STIs such as genital warts, herpes and chlamydia when exchanging bodily fluids. Any one-on-one contact, such as oral sex or using the same hand when touching yourself and then your partner, can put you at risk. If two women are both menstruating, they are at a higher risk.

Tips for Lesbian Women on Safer Sex:

  • If you’re using sex toys, use a new condom for each partner or between penetration of different body openings. Sex toys should be washed with soap and water between sessions.
  • Avoid oral sex if either of you has any cuts or sores in the mouth or on the lips, or use a dental dam. A dental dam is a latex or polyurethane (very thin, soft plastic) square, of about 15cm by 15cm, which you can use to cover female genitals during oral sex. It acts as a barrier to help prevent sexually transmitted infections passing from one person to another.
  • Some infections can be transmitted by hands, fingers and mutual vulval rubbing. Wash your hands before and after sex.

Tips for bisexual women on safer sex with men:

  • If you have vaginal, anal or oral sex with a man, use a condom. When used correctly, condoms protect against unintended pregnancy and STIs. In addition to using condoms, find out about the form of contraception that suits you best.
  • If you think you could be at risk of unintended pregnancy, you have the option of using emergency contraception (the “morning after” pill or an IUD).
  • The emergency pill is available from some pharmacies, GPs, contraception (family planning) clinics and some sexual health clinics. The IUD is available from contraception clinics, some sexual health clinics and some GPs.

Additional Information & Supports

  • HSE HIV and Sexual Health helpline:You can call their confidential freephone helpline on 1800 459 459 from Monday to Friday between 9:30 am and 5:30 pm. You can also email them at any time on
    • What they do: They provide a free, confidential place where you can talk through your concerns about HIV and sexual health, get information about services and consider the options to help you improve your situation.
    • How we can help you: The helpline is here to provide confidential support, information, guidance and referral to anyone with a question or concern related to HIV and sexual health. They provide free, non-judgemental support and information to people with a query about their sexual health. They also give information on testing clinics and support services as well as a listening ear.
  • It provides HIV and sexual health information for gay and bisexual men, and other men who have sex with men in Ireland
  • The Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme provides information to help people living in Ireland to experience positive sexual health and wellbeing.