Sex and Alcohol.
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.