Tips with Trish: Sex Under the Influence

Dear Trish,

I have seen the posters around campus on sexual assault. I heard Josh Jasper speak about consent. One of my friends was raped last year, so I have seen what it does to a person. I would never pressure a woman to have sex with me if she didn’t want to. But I have had sex after drinking too much with girls that have also probably been drinking too much. And both of us agreed to it. According to the posters on the walls, this still constitutes a sexual assault. So does this mean we are both perpetrators?

Signed, Just Sayin’
Trish says,

First of all, thanks for bringing up an important topic and asking the hard questions.

A recent study in USA Today says that most college students know that sexual assault is wrong. Sexual assault is any type of forced or coerced sexual contact or behavior that happens without consent (Womenshealth.gov). The harder thing to distinguish has actually more to do with the definition of consent. Since you specifically ask about consent to a sexual act in relationship to alcohol use, I will try to focus on that in my response since sexual assault and alcohol often go together.

A person’s capacity to legally consent to a sexual activity can be based on several factors including the level of alcohol consumption. The definition of consent says that one cannot give consent to a sexual act while over the legal limit of alcohol. Keep in mind, though, that different states have different definitions of intoxication. So if a state or college determines that a student who engaged in sexual activity did not have the capacity to consent, the perpetrator may be charged with a crime or at the very least be given sanctions by the college. So yes, it is possible that if you have sexual contact with a person who is impaired due to alcohol, even if you both say “yes” to sex, it could likely not be seen as consensual because neither of you are in your right mind to give consent.  And either one can be seen as a perpetrator in this scenario, so it’s best to avoid it all together.

Alcohol can be seen as a tool to lower a person’s ability to give consent or understand what is happening in a given time. Men and women who have already been drinking are often more easily encouraged to keep drinking and end up drinking more than they normally would, often regretting their behavior while under the influence. Would you consider going to a job interview intoxicated, signing a contract for an apartment while drunk, or getting married while over the legal limit? Of course not or hopefully not. For many, sexual intimacy has gotten away from being a big life decision, but it can sure end up being one.

And let me just add one more thought. Sex is usually much better when you have an emotional connection with someone rather than a hook-up while intoxicated. I know that I am saying that in light of living in a hook-up culture, but it is still possible to have a relationship without sex or at the very least, sex when not over the legal limit of intoxication. The fact that the ramifications afterwards may be emotionally, physically or legally serious should be something to think about before you go out. Loras “strives to be a community demonstrating the highest standards of the Catholic intellectual tradition and welcoming all people into a dialogue to promote core values of truth, respect, responsibility, excellence and service.” So whether or not you are in favor of casual sex, isn’t it at least worth making the decision while sober and sure that the other party is as well? This might be a good time to reflect on your values. Be honest about your intentions, think through your behavior, and respect other people.

Signed, Trish

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