On Sex, Alcohol, and Consent

Alcohol has come up a lot in recent posts, both on this blog and on our Facebook page, so we wanted to start a conversation on the issue.  Haverford’s sexual misconduct page states, “Voluntary consent cannot be given if a person is intoxicated or impaired.”  Legal definitions aside, what are the consequences for us, real students, when alcohol is involved in a sexual interaction?  We have been accused of “indict[ing] the hookup culture on campus (and as an extension, most men on campus).”  As mentioned in a previous post, this is not at all our intention, and many of us have had great experiences in the Haverford social scene.  However, this does not mean our campus social culture should be immune to thoughtful critique.  The point remains that when people obtain enthusiastic consent from their partner(s), everybody wins.  There is no confusion– so for those who have mentioned that this campaign has made them afraid to initiate sexual contact with others, don’t be!  Our campaign seeks to promote active, enthusiastic consent, not finger pointing and fear (hence the title Consent is Sexy.)  If we all commit to getting enthusiastic consent from every partner every time for every sexual act, the challenges posed by the presence of alcohol become much simpler.  To more fully address this issue, we highly recommend this article from SAFER’s blog.  SAFER (Students Active For Ending Rape) is an organization that assists and empowers students to improve campus sexual assault policies nationwide.

“And so when we talk about alcohol and consent, it’s a conversation about open communication with your partner if they’ve been drinking—checking in with them, making sure they are enthusiastically, affirmatively consenting to whatever you’re doing together.”

It’s all about consent baby, because it’s so damned sexy.

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6 thoughts on “On Sex, Alcohol, and Consent

  1. The SAFER article does try to rectify the tensions between alcohol consumption and respectful, consensual sexual relations, but it doesn’t resolve them. The legal reality is plain: you cannot give consent while intoxicated; as the SAFER article mentioned, we don’t tend to carry breathalyzers when we go out. The social reality, as most Haverford students (or students anywhere, for that matter) know, is that people will go out on the weekends, possibly drink, and potentially meet someone who has also had something to drink. Even though the Code and Alcohol Policy hold us socially responsible for our actions while under the influence, it can’t hold us legally responsible for our decision to have sexual relations with someone after drinking.

    Instead, I think we as members of the community should look to infuse trust, concern, respect into the idea of consent (which is what I believe SOAR is saying with these dialogues). We should be concerned with the well-being of our partner and respect one another even if we are drunk. As a practical solution, people who hook up while drunk should talk about that situation once sober. They should ask whether or not the other felt the situation was respectfully consensual, whether or not there were things said or done which the other did not feel comfortable with in retrospect. While it doesn’t solve all our problems (I’m not suggesting that just ‘talking it out’ will resolve cases where someone feels taken advantage of), dialogue does move us forward in combating the confusion which surrounds consent and drunk hookups while maintaining the values of our community.

    • “Even though the Code and Alcohol Policy hold us socially responsible for our actions while under the influence, it can’t hold us legally responsible for our decision to have sexual relations with someone after drinking.”

      I really really appreciate your post, and thank you for seeing to the heart of what the Consent is Sexy campaign is trying to get across. That being said, in response to this part of your comment, I would like to emphasize that if you assault/rape someone while under the influence of a substance, you are still both socially and legally responsible for your actions. Based on the rest of your post, I gather that you were probably referring the difference between the Honor Code and the Law, but I just wanted to clarify.

      • You’re completely right, the Code/Policy does hold us legally responsible for our actions. Looking back, I really goofed with that statement: I meant to say that even though we can obtain respectful consent under the Code/TCR, it doesn’t change that legal consent cannot exist when alcohol is involved (which we should remember whenever discussing the two).

        And you’re welcome, Amy. I will admit, when the campaign first started I had reservations like a lot of students. But while I can sometimes disagree with tactics of the campaign, the mission is definitely one to stand behind: the College’s policy on rape/sexual assault is in dire need of reconstitution, the travesty that is ‘Institutional Memory’ should be given proper attention and respect by the administration, and our Customs program should do more to help incoming freshmen navigate the tricky world of sex, drugs, and TCR.

      • I have to get a legal point across here. This: “I would like to emphasize that if you assault/rape someone while under the influence of a substance, you are still both socially and legally responsible for your actions,” is a little bit misleading. It implies that there is a possibility for drunk sex to not be rape. Legally, there is not. Haverford’s policy is taken from US law: “Voluntary consent cannot be given if a person is intoxicated or impaired.” If a person cannot give voluntary consent, it is rape. Under legal precedent, it is always the man raping the woman.

        Succinctly, under the letter of the law, drunk sex between a man and a woman is always rape by the man.

  2. I believe that in the case where both are unable to give consent, the person who initiates contact (and I guess keeps initiating, assuming no one protests?) is the one at fault, not the man. I am not a lawyer, and someone should definitely fact check that law, but I have a really hard time believing that the man in a mutually drunk encounter is automatically the rapist.

  3. You’re right, I phrase that poorly. Under the letter of the law, you are correct. As I stated the line before however, under legal precedent (the way the law has been used), it’s always the man’s fault.

    Additionally, many state (and federal?) laws make penetration the criteria for rape. Under that standard, a woman cannot rape a man (unless she uses some form of “sex toy”).

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