Browsing Tag

rape by intoxication


let's talk about drunk people and sex, take two


Back in November I wrote a post laying out some of the biggest questions I have about the “having sex while intoxicated” question; mainly that “how drunk is too drunk?” is a fundamentally flawed question and what we should be examining is “isn’t it predatory for people (usually men, not always) to target intoxicated people (usually women, not always)?” and “why isn’t enthusiastic consent the standard?” Neither of those questions are rhetorical, and I highly encourage you to check out the discussion in the comments– I think it was one of the best conversations I’ve had on my blog to date.

At the time I wrote it I was sort-of-not-really responding to the Emily Yoffe disaster, but yesterday something else started cropping up in my various news feeds: James Taranto essentially making the argument that if a drunk man rapes a drunk woman, there’s no crime (link is to an analysis, not original). In his view, both people– the rapist and the victim– should be held equally responsible, or not responsible at all. I barely managed to make it through Taranto’s Washington Post column; it took me a couple of tries to get all the way to the end.

So, I’m going to be responding to this general idea, but not really Taranto in particular, because it’s the narrative that makes his argument believable to people that concerns me.

Taranto compares rape to two drunk drivers who get into a car accident. This is not a new comparison, at least not to me– and if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard it trip glibly off the tongue of someone who is hilariously uninformed . . .

There is a premise backing up this statement, and it is a premise that a horrifying number of people– of all genders– believe. It is the idea that women who say they were raped while intoxicated are actually lying about having sex because they regret it. You can easily stumble across this argument almost anywhere– in living rooms, in bars, on the internet. This argument only exists because there is something even more insidious hiding beneath it, and this is the real problem with how Americans, at least, think and talk about sex:

Women only say no to sex because they are supposed to; it is the man’s job to do whatever he can to override that no. Women actually want to say yes, even when they are saying no.

That is the belief that allows us to believe all of the others– that the woman’s only job is to be the chaste, asexual gatekeeper, and men are the lustful, lascivious animals who are willing to go to any length– coercion, deceit, force — to achieve the ultimate goal of The I Had Sex with Her Trophy. It is the underlying rape-culture idea behind songs like Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”

Another fact that Taranto seems to be completely unaware of is that rapists are not just “people who are too drunk to realize what they’re doing and stop.” Rapists are predators. People who rape– and they are usually men, but not always– are a rather small slice of the population (3%-10%), depending on the study you read and the country you’re in. However, all the studies reveal a common pattern: predators and rapists target specific victims with only one goal in mind: to get away with it.

  • They spend time identifying vulnerable people.
  • They use cultural narratives in their favor. They find people who, by cultural standards, “deserve” to be raped– gay people, trans people, drunk people, alone people, “slutty” people . . .
  • They become acquaintances– or even friends– of the victim. They insinuate themselves into the victim’s group and deliberately communicate an image of being a “nice guy,” someone who is trustworthy.
  • They use whatever circumstances they can– making sure the victim is seen “flirting” with them, making sure their victim is drunk. . .
  • They do whatever they can in order to make sure their victim is discredited.

Remember, the ultimate goal is that no one believes their victim and that they get away with it. Rapists are not stupid. This is one of the reasons why so many rapes are linked to intoxication on college campuses: alcohol has become another weapon in a rapist’s arsenal– just like roofies, just like coercion, just like threats,  just like violence. They can use alcohol in order to get away with raping someone, because they know campus officials and police officers will ask “were you drunk?” and then dismiss anything else their victims say.


Before we get into the discussion, I’d like to circumvent a few possible questions.

There is a gray area when we start talking about sex and alcohol. I’m not dismissing that. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when we talk about rape by intoxication.

First, if a person says “no” or “stop” or “I don’t want this” even if they have engaged in other sexual activities, anything that follows that “no” is rape. End of story. There is no other explanation, no surrounding circumstances, nothing. If they say no, it does not matter how drunk they are, it does not matter if they have been making out with you for an hour or just gave you oral, it does not matter. It’s rape.

Second, if a person is unconscious and you engage in sexual activities with them, you are raping them. That should be obvious, but thanks to things like Steubenville we know it’s not. It’s beyond all sense and reason that I even have to say this, but this is the world we live in, apparently.

Thirdly, the fact that they didn’t say “no” doesn’t mean they consented. Rape is sexual behavior that the other person did not consent to. Them “not saying no” doesn’t count. It’s insane that the only time we think of “consent” as being “they didn’t say no” is when we’re talking about sex. If some company dumps poison into my water supply, they can’t walk into court and say “welp, they didn’t say don’t dump poison into our water!” and get away with it. The same principle applies to sex: if they did not consent, then, legally, it’s rape. Consent is “yes, I want to have sex with you.”

And here is exactly where we run into the gray area, because consent can sound like and look like a lot of different things depending on the people involved in the situation. My partner and I don’t give verbal consent like that because we don’t need to– we know each other well enough where body language is enough. If you don’t have a trust-based relationship with the person you’re about to have sex with, make sure you get explicit, verbal consent. This is why I’m such a fan of enthusiastic consent— and why I’ve talked about it so much.

I want to address, specifically, this concept that people have sex, wake up in the morning, regret it, and then claim that they were raped. I’m not going to make the case that this never ever happens, but we do know beyond all doubt that it is incredibly rare. People have sex when they’re drunk and then regret it the next day all of the time. People have sex when they’re not drunk and then regret it all of the time, too. People make mistakes. They do things they regret. They also don’t usually wake up in the morning and say “I’m going to go accuse this person of rape for no reason!”

When a woman, especially, accuses someone of rape, it is an excruciating process. She is frequently ostracized and isolated. Her friends abandon her. The police intimidate and frighten her, and frequently accuse her of being a liar or an attention whore. She is slut-shamed, victim-blamed. Her entire life can be destroyed. Coming forward and saying this person raped me usually comes with so much risk and danger that most rape victims never report their rape.

There are probably a hundred other circumstances we could talk about concerning sex and alcohol, and they’re worth the conversation. I’m not going to say that having sex with a drunk person is always rape, because it’s not. Plenty of people have sex while intoxicated and it’s perfectly ok. However, and this is so important I’m going to be shouting about it the rest of my life, if you want to have sex with someone, get their clear consent. It really is that simple.


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let's talk about drunk women and sex

enthusiasic consent

I just want to ask a quick question, because it’s something that I wonder every time I’m a part of a conversation about consent.

I am a huge, sign-waving fan of enthusiastic consent— also known as “yes means yes.” But, as Elfity noticed, many people seem either wholly skeptical of the idea, or they’re suspicious and downright antagonistic– and this reaction isn’t limited to Male Rights Activists (MRAs) and the red pill crowd (and no, no links. If you’re honestly curious, google. I won’t grace any of those places with traffic from my blog).

The basic difference between the “yes means yes” model and the “just say no” model is the difference between passive reception and active participation. One of the biggest proponents calls the “yes means yes” way of approaching sex as the “performance model.” You don’t waltz with a woman by dragging her marble  statue body around a stage. You don’t perform in a band where the other people are stone-faced automotons that don’t create the music with you.

When I have sex with my husband, “I don’t just lay there, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Sometimes, I initiate. Sometimes he does. We rely mostly on physical cues– if he can tell that I’m not feeling well, he doesn’t push, and I do the same for him. Sometimes, though, if I haven’t been feeling well, he gently initiates something– slowly and tenderly, and always pays close attention to my response. He can tell, because he’s watching, that yes, I want sex, or no, rubbing my back is really nice, please keep doing that. We’ve established trust, and we know each other, and we can read each other. There are all kinds of ways that we can identify consent.

Anyway, when I talk about consent– here on my blog, in real life, on other internet spaces– I frequently bump into something that honestly, at this point, I find incredibly disturbing. The internet has exploded about this topic in particular, and I  just want to throw something out there.

Lots of people are asking about sex and alcohol. And, something that I’ve noticed a lot is that men have a problem with being told that having sex with a woman too drunk to consent is either a) a horrifically bad idea or b) rape. I think this issue is worth talking about, and I don’t have a hard-and-fast answer. I just have a question:

Men, why do you so vehemently defend your desire to have sex with unresponsive women?

Why is it that this comes up so much? What is it about having sex with a semi-unconscious woman that’s so damn appealing? What is it about having sex with a woman who won’t remember who you are the next day, or her memories of her experience with you are vague and non-specific?

Why do you want to have sex like that? Doesn’t that seem really predatory to you?

To me, this demonstrates that men seem to be much more interested in shoving their penis into someone–anyone’s– vagina a couple of times than they are in having a mutually pleasurable experience. One night stands where you never see each other again, one night stands that lead into something more– whatever, that’s up to you. But what is it about sex with women who are so drunk that you’re not entirely sure if she wants to have sex with you but hey, she’s not saying no, so let’s just have terrible, terrible “sex”? Why is that something you so vociferously defend?

Is there something about having sex with a woman who is enthusiastic about having sex with you that’s a turn off? Why isn’t having sex with women who want to have sex with you something we’re not framing as a really fantastic, awesome goal? Why does it seem to be the goal to get women so drunk that they are “willing” to have sex with you that they wouldn’t be willing to have with you sober?

I’m genuinely confused about this. Why is the bar so incredibly low?

I’m not comfortable with calling every single sexual encounter a person has with an inebriated person rape. I’m still wrestling with this issue, and I think that “it depends” is going to be as close an answer that I ever arrive at. However, I don’t think that focusing on “when is it rape?” is really the most productive thing we can be doing. I think we should be re-framing the entire conversation. I think we should be encouraging people to have amazing sex. I think we should be encouraging a model of sex where the participants are involved, and interested, and having a fun time.

I think that as long as we keep trying to hammer how “how drunk does she have to be in order for it to be rape?” we’re going to be running in circles. Instead, why aren’t we asking the question– isn’t it predatory behavior for a man (or woman) to target drunk women (or men), regardless of whether or not it’s rape? Because that’s what it comes down to for me. Having sex with someone who can’t be an active, interested, enthusiastic participant is a bad idea. And yes, that includes the fact that it is very often not just terrible sex, but rape.

Just to be crystal clear: the law defines rape as including the inability to give consent to sex, and that removes any possibility for a woman to give consent to sex while intoxicated. Legally, having sex with someone incapable of giving consent is rape. Period. Full stop. That is the legal definition of rape, and that is how the law prosecutes rapists.

Whether or not the woman involved feels that it is rape and decides to press chargers– entirely up to her. If she decides to press charges, though, it does not matter what the man thought about her consent the night before. If he had sex with an intoxicated woman, in the eyes of the law, he raped her. This is called rape by intoxication. Look it up.

However, I still think it’s important to talk about this issue as not necessarily that black-and-white. The law is black and white. People are not. We have to make decisions in the day-to-day, and that means that things are going to occasionally look gray. So, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves: why do men want to have sex with women who wouldn’t consent to having sex with them sober? Why is it a socially acceptable goal for men to get women drunk in order to have sex with them? Why is this behavior that we encourage? Why do we think this is ok when what we’re encouraging is really horrible, terrible, one-sided sex at the very best, and rape at the very worst?

And why do we defend their “right” to do this? And no, “because men are horny” is not a good enough answer. Women are horny, too, women want sex, too, and women are having just as many one-night stands as men are, so don’t give me that bull. Straight men are having sex with straight women every single time they do it, so this is just really basic math.

Our culture is built on men being predators, and this seems to be something we do our dead-level best to defend. Why?


I am very interested in having a conversation about this. I hammered this out really quickly, so I’m open to you taking issue with my wordings as well as my argument. Show me I’m wrong– from either point of view. Maybe I’m being to permissive about intoxicated sex. Maybe you think the opposite. Let me know.