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Sex and Alcohol.

4 February 2016

Dangerous waters these. With two news events hitting the academic world – the Dr. Lieb fiasco and the CDC’s infographic on women and alcohol – I thought I’d try to bring an alcoholic’s perspective to the issues of alcohol and sex. There are a lot of those issues. It’s complex and unpleasant. Nothing is as simple as we’d like it to be when it comes to humans, drugs, and sex.

Before we get into the nuances, let’s dispense with the obvious. Having sex with someone who is incapacitated due to alcohol consumption is rape. And it is solely the culpability of the person committing the rape, and not the person who is incapacitated. Rape is primarily a male problem: men need to stop raping people. Nothing that follows should be construed to amend those statements.

Furthermore, I strongly condemn any professor having a sexual relationship with any student or trainee in their entire university, a fortiori any student in their department or lab. Not only is this wrong, it’s unbelievably stupid, and represents ridiculously poor judgement and should be a dismissable act at every university. Faculty shouldn’t fuck students. Period.

Now it gets a little messy. And I know there are those who don’t believe there’s any messiness about mixing alcohol and sex. I think they’re wrong. I think there are situations where many people happily and consensually mix alcohol and sex and that that’s ok. It sort of breaks down into categories.

There exist people in sexual relationships where consent is explicit and clear, who can have happy, unambiguously consensual sex while one is or both are intoxicated. These relationships can also go wrong, and there are many instances where consent in these circumstances is retracted, and sex between them unambiguously becomes rape. Consent is key, it is rarely unclear when it is retracted, and intoxicated or not the instant consent is retracted sex must stop.

There are situations where people go out with the explicit and clear intention of getting drunk and having consensual sex with a new or recently-encountered partner. In these situations, where the decision is made while sober, and consent is never retracted, it seems that this, while perhaps foolish and dangerous, remains within the realm of consensual. But this is especially stupid for men to do: this is how we become rapists. We go out, sober, intending to have sex if possible, and once drunk some of us are not careful about consent. And my position, once again, is that alcohol is an exacerbating factor, not a mitigating one. A drunk man who rapes someone is MORE culpable, not less.

Because of the existence of consensual sex during intoxication, it is often used to cast doubt on the claims of a victim of rape. It should not be. When someone makes a conscious decision to have sex, it is vanishingly rare that they later claim to have been raped. So rare as to be beyond reasonable doubt unless there is some other evidence. And if a person is so intoxicated that they cannot make that conscious decision, it is always rape to have sex with them.

The prudent and wise thing to do is to not have sex with drunk people. And don’t have sex drunk. There is no such thing as being “led on” by a drunk person, and being drunk does not excuse or exculpate raping someone.

But if you’re in a happy consensual relationship, and you and your partner both enjoy having sex while one or both of you are drunk, and you make those decisions sober? Well, I don’t enjoy that kind of thing anymore. I think alcohol and sex make a lot of problems. But I believe it’s possible to have consensual sex in those circumstances.

We alcoholics though? We cannot. Alcohol changes us, fuels our impulses. Removes our inhibitions, and allows us to ignore the withdrawal of consent. I think nearly every alcoholic is a rapist. Being an alcoholic doesn’t expunge that from us. We alcoholics are no more capable of responsible sex than we are of responsible driving. Sobriety is the only way for us to engage in happy, consensual sexual relationships.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Aimee permalink
    4 February 2016 12:06

    Ooh you’re gonna get a lot of blowback on this one. I agree with everything you say, although I would not always use such strong terminology. I’m not sure I agree that “nearly every alcoholic is a rapist.” Having been through just about every shade of the spectrum from “sober consensual” to “drunk consensual” to “drunk non-consensual” I think there are more grey areas (or that the areas are greyer) than you lay out here. But overall, standing ovation.

  2. 4 February 2016 23:25

    I agree with all of this except for the last paragraph, which I don’t feel I know enough about to agree or disagree. The CDC poster angered me for so many other reasons than just rape. It reinforced the continual attitude that women are responsible for everything that happens to them. If your skirt is too short, you deserved to be raped. If you were outfit is too revealing, school will suspend you because you are a distraction to boys. Because boys have absolutely no self control and can’t be expected to. With the CDC poster, I learned that if I drink too much I can become pregnant. Who knew alcohol had sperm inside it? Men have no responsibility? If a man and a woman are both drunk, have unprotected sex, and she becomes pregnant, it is both of their responsibilities. If she is drunk and he is sober, I agree with you it depends on the situation as to if that is rape or consensual, but let’s say the relationship is such that it is consensual, they both have responsibility for the pregnancy. I would argue him more than her. Why did CDC have no accompanying poster for men? Both men and women should not drink to excess. Both men and women are responsible for their actions while drinking. Both men and women are more likely to have certain things like injury, liver disease (which was not even mentioned), or get an STD if they drink too much. So let’s see the warning for men. Let’s see a warning that says “men don’t drink too much or you might cause injury or commit violence or get an STD or cause a pregnancy.”

  3. Rob permalink
    8 February 2016 08:32

    I agree with much of what you say, but “nearly every alcoholic is a rapist” ? I’m not sure how you justify that statement. I myself have never been a first hand observer of what goes on in any other alcoholic’s bedroom or private life, but I sincerely hope they’re not.

    • 8 February 2016 08:42

      It lies in that deeply grey murky area. Read some of the Guest Infacts here. Nearly every male alcoholic has had sex with someone who REALLY didn’t want to have sex with them, but may have consented to the horrible experience rather than have the fight again about not wanting to fuck the drunk.

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