Drunk Sex: When Will Women Be Seen As Responsible Decision-Makers in Sexual Matters?

Posted on October 20, 2014

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The “No means no” slogan of the past couple of decades hasn’t really helped much where sexual misconduct on campus is concerned. Enter a new slogan, “Yes means yes.” It sounds good in theory – affirmative consent all around before any activity is initiated – but it fails to resolve the single biggest problem in all of this:

Drunk sex.

As Jake New reports for PBS,

Furthermore, most campus policies state that yes does not mean yes if a student is intoxicated. At Cornell University, for example, a student cannot consent if he or she is highly intoxicated. At the same time, if the accused is also highly intoxicated, he or she cannot use intoxication as a defense. In the case of two intoxicated students, Cornell’s rules place the responsibility on obtaining consent with whichever student is the “initiator of further sexual activity,” saying that “the inability to perceive capacity does not excuse the behavior of the person who begins the sexual interaction or tries to take it to another level.”

Wait, what? Yes does NOT mean yes? And… how intoxicated is intoxicated? It’s not passed-out intoxicated, or there would be no “yes.” Is it tipsy? Giddy? Plastered?  Will frat boys need breathalyzers to figure out if their dates really mean yes? Is there a blood-alcohol chart somewhere they need to reference before dropping their pants?

Let’s just get something out of the way right up front: although these policies are written to apply equally to men and women, the overwhelming majority of cases involve women as victims and men as perpetrators. I have a problem with this where drunk sex is concerned. I do not mean passed-out drunk, I mean drunk and making decision that one regrets in the morning.

“Yes means yes” puts us right back where we started: if a girl has a few drinks and sex then trundles off to class the next day with a smile on her face, great. But if she regrets it in the morning, then “yes” didn’t really mean “yes.” She gets to retroactively annul it. What does that tell us about women’s decision-making ability? That we can’t make adult decisions and then take the consequences? That we have to be protected from ourselves? Campus officials may think they are protecting women from assault this way, but it smacks of paternalism.

The man does not get to annul his decisions. In describing their morning-after regrets, men may grumble, or laugh about “coyote ugly,” or “beer goggles,” but I can’t really think of a lot of cases of men bringing rape charges against a girl they made a drunken decision to have sex with. In fact, while the woman gets to annul her drunken decision and rescind her “yes,” the man is held responsible for his drunken decision and for believing her “yes”… in essence, he is responsible for his own behavior, and hers.  He risks a sexual assault charge anytime drinking and sex go together, should his partner later have regrets.

That’s patently unfair and unreasonable. It requires the man to have superhuman prescience while drunk, and correctly determine that “yes” now will still have been “yes” in the morning, even when the person saying “yes” doesn’t know that herself, yet.

The man is responsible while drunk.  The woman is not.  But only in matters of sex.

Consider this: if that same drunk girl got behind the wheel, she would be charged with DUI and held responsible for her drunken decision to drive. So why is it different when she makes a drunken decision to have sex? Why is she suddenly not responsible any more, unable to give consent? What’s so special about sex that makes a drunken, conscious, consensual sexual encounter into a potential crime a few hours later?

Decisions about sex are no different from other decisions we make. A conscious “yes” should mean “yes” with no caveats or exceptions. Not even for drunkenness.

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