Women aged between 16 to 30 now have access to free contraception despite the fact the age of consent is 17.
The change “brings into sharper relief” the realities of when young people are becoming sexually active and what the laws are, Dr Pádraig MacNeela toldNewstalk Breakfast.
"We know from the last HSBC national survey in 2018… that a quarter of 15 to 17-year-olds are sexually active.”
The age of consent in other EU countries is between 14 and 16, the Active*Consent programme lead at the University of Galway said.
"Your laws should reflect what people are doing.”
“The UN Committee of the Rights of the Child has also said that we should avoid criminalising adolescents.”
Dr Ciara Kelly shared what she called “a very Irish text” on the subject with Dr MacNeela.
"What of message are we sending if we lower the age of consent?” it said.
“On some level deep down we still believe that young people shouldn’t be having sex,” the broadcaster explained.
Dr MacNeela compared the situation to underage drinking and how many young people start using alcohol at 16 or younger.
"We don’t have to make the argument that just because people are doing it, it should be made legal.”
The age of consent is a legal issue but contraception is a bio-medical one, Dr MacNeela said.
His main concern is that there isn’t sufficient “emotional relationship education.”
"We know a majority of young people that we work with in Active*Consent programmes say that they’re not satisfied with the sex education that they receive in school – in particular around relationships and consent.”
Dr Ciara Kelly shared the worries about being “out of our depth” when it comes to showing young people what healthy relationships and toxic relationships are.
"Sex education needs to equip kids, whether they’re sexually active or not, to be able to say ‘no’ to what they want to say ‘no’ to, to have their own personal boundaries,” she said.
Dr MacNeela shared the lessons taught by his Active*Consent programme at schools and colleges across the country.
It should be “ongoing, mutual and freely-given” he says.
People should be able to withdraw consent at any time, should agree to each step and should not be pressured or coerced into sexual activity, the programme says.
Budget 2023 extended the free contraception plan to women aged 16 to 30 this week. New funding also promises measures that will help people undergoing IVF treatment.