Drunken love and the blurred lines between intoxication and consent

This article is part of our sex edition, commemorating 45 years since we ran our first student sex survey. Related articles can be found by searching “sex issue,” and the PDF version of the printed paper can be found by going to About Us, then Archives.

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Drunken love and the blurred lines between intoxication and consent

Alexandra Polidora and Evelyn Bailey

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“It was not planned at all; I sort of started out the night having fun with friends and it was just kind of blurry. Then, I ended up alone with some guy that I ended up having sex with,” “Olivia,” a junior who wished to remain anonymous, said.

The idea of consent seems straightforward: two people agreeing to engage in sexual activity, giving consent by saying “yes” when asked. This one word is particularly important for anything, including, but not limited to, any kind of sex, hugging or kissing. So, no matter what, an enthusiastic yes means yes, and anything else means no, according to the Washington Post.

In high school, students may experiment with drinking, with individuals aged 12 through 20 consuming 11 percent of all alcohol in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Protection. On top of drinking, students also begin to experiment with relationships during their teenage years; according to a report by Planned Parenthood, more than half of U.S. teens have had sex by the time they turn 18. The correlation between intoxication and sexual activity is relatively high, according to a self-reported Bark survey. Fifty percent of Redwood students that are engaging in sexual activity have done so while being intoxicated at some point in their high school careers. Additionally, 16 percent of Redwood students were under the influence when they lost their virginity. Alcohol can play a big part in one’s decision-making, according to Olivia.

“When you’re intoxicated you don’t really think of [sex] as being a big deal, so it’s a lot more common to have drunk hookups,” Olivia said.

Although these actions may not seem like a “big deal” at the time, according to Olivia, charges pressed for sexual assault accusations could result in the allegation of a sex crime, which could add a perpetrator to the sex offender list for life. Additionally, victims could suffer from severe emotional trauma and possible outcomes of sex under the influence are becoming pregnant or catching a sexually-transmitted disease (STD), according to Fremstad Law.

According to the director of the YMCA Marin Youth Court, Don Carney, when both parties are equally intoxicated while engaging in sexual activities, consent cannot be given.

“If either party is under the influence, there can be no consent. You have to be completely sober to give consent,” Carney said.

Regardless, the likelihood of both parties being charged with counts of sexual assault is slim, according to Carney. The chance of one party being charged, however, is more dependent on the situation. If either party is intoxicated to the point where they are unable to resist and/or to express resistance with a reasonable mindset, it would be considered rape.

Students’ usage of alcohol during any form of sexual activity can be attributed to several factors, ranging from confidence boosters to the social pressures of high school, according to Wayne University.

“That’s what a lot of people do: drink to gain a little bit of confidence and almost as an excuse too. If you’re flirting with somebody and they are clearly not into you, well then you can blame it on the

Photo illustration by Evelyn Bailey

fact that you were drunk and didn’t know what you were doing,” Olivia said.

 

Because of this, people can trade in proper decision making for their reliance on alcohol to handle social and sexual situations, according to Olivia. The correlation between intoxication and rape cases is evident, as at least 50 percent of all rape incidents are alcohol-related, according to Kansas State University. Additionally, 67 percent of women are intoxicated at the time of an unplanned pregnancy and 72 percent of sex offenders in assault cases are under the influence of alcohol.

 

This information is important to know whether you are presented with a situation like Olivia’s or not. These lines between consent and intoxication can seem blurred in certain situations, but it is valuable to remember that consent is a crucial part of any relationship and it will continue to be through adult life.

 

If you or a friend want to talk or have questions about being sexually assaulted call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).