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Consent Under the Influence?

Alcohol and sex are commonly tied to one another. We see it intermingled in headlines, advertisements, and rape myths. Media saturates seduction with booze everywhere you turn, but why is drunk sex considered a socially acceptable thing?

rape-time-to-stopI want to start an honest conversation about drinking and sex. I don’t want to say that drunken sex is always wrong and, most importantly, I do not want to victim blame. There is absolutely no question that affirmative consent should always be clear, constant, and coherent. If someone is intoxicated, they cannot give legal consent to a number of things, not just sex. After all, even in Vegas, you have to be sober to get married. Entering into any contractual agreement while incapacitated is usually voidable in the eyes of the law. This is because drinking is proven to decrease cognitive ability and awareness of risk. If you proposition someone while they are drunk, you are entering into dangerous territory, because this person may not be capable of assessing the situation.

Unfortunately, this is not common sense for many people. Many assume that if a person is not completely passed out, then they are accountable for their actions. In reality, the scientific evidence shows a wide spectrum of behaviors when someone is incapacitated. The appearance of being “blackout drunk” can be very different from one person to the next. Therefore, that “drunken escapade” may actually be rape.

I don’t say this to place blame or to cause civil unrest. I say this because I want to cultivate empathy and encourage good judgment and open discussion within our community. The truth is that alcohol comes with a list of risks, and sexual violence can unfortunately be one of them. As a community we need to accept this and work on creating a healthy environment for sex that doesn’t revolve completely around alcohol.

So how do we start?

Don’t romanticize drunken sex. Intoxication dampens arousal and decreases coordination, which can lead to a nightmarish mix of fumbling and nausea. Furthermore, alcohol limits your ability to enjoy yourself. Let’s stop pretending that it’s a guaranteed good time and accept that good drunk sex is like a unicorn: rare.

Don’t expect alcohol to get you laid. Alcohol is not your social crutch nor your pardon for bad behavior. If you need to “loosen someone up” to have sex with them, then you shouldn’t be hooking up in the first place. Be wary of acquaintances that push or encourage others to drink. Consent should be freely given, not coerced by alcohol or drugs.

Don’t blame victims who were drinking at the time of their assault. Drinking is not a crime; rape is. Placing the blame on the survivor only perpetuates self-doubt and hurt. Drinking might make people more vulnerable to sexual assault, but it doesn’t make them more culpable for what happened to them. Drinking makes it harder for victims to perceive risks or to resist force, and perpetrators are always wholly accountable for their actions whether alcohol was involved or not.

Lastly, we need to make this a team effort. Most of the literature about the dangers of drinking is targeted toward women. Women are told to watch their drink, their friends, and their intake, as if this will magically keep them safe from assault. This is victim blaming, and it doesn’t look at the larger picture of how alcohol relates to rape culture. If we truly want to change rape culture, everyone – regardless of their gender – should be taught to recognize the risks of drinking for themselves and others.

Gentry Hodnett is our Administrative Services Coordinator. She manages our office and provides integral staff support.

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