In every movie I have watched lately, the scene of the not-yet consummated couple binge drinking is quickly followed by the shots of stilettos flying off in darkened apartments, passionate love-making, and sunny mornings in alarmingly clean, white sheets. Voila! Alcohol has once again eased pesky plot line tensions and now romance begins!
Being the enthusiastic party-pooper that I am, I question this.
Granted, these are not red-flag-flapping scenes of a predatory character scraping their barely-conscious victim off a bar floor and dragging them to a questionable cut-to-next-morning. But clearly there is something assumed normal and sexy about inebriated sex with strangers that I’ve failed to grasp. What about those little details like communication, consent, and making sure safer sex measures are working to your benefit? Why are sex and alcohol so inexorably linked that there comes heavy sexual expectation in the state where people are least able to function, and most likely to upchuck?
I do see some of the appeal. For those who identify as female or feminine, there’s the myriad of culturally imposed ideas that female sexuality is kinda like male sexuality: just smaller, softer, quieter and essentially incomplete. Being drunk is a really great, socially acceptable time for women to let loose, act upon a whole and complete sexuality, and get laid — so as long as they express some embarrassment afterwards and disown those “wild and crazy” urges they expressed the night before. For the male-identified, the expected insatiable sex drive, dominant attitude and the courage to make the obligatory first move doesn’t always come naturally. Enter: liquid courage and entitlement.
It seems we self-medicate with alcohol to dull the shame, confusion and gender-norms surrounding sex, desires, and sexuality that are so present in ourselves and our culture, and to questionably productive ends. We’re trapped in an uncomfortable impasse: acting on sexual impulses drunk is both more and less acceptable than if sober. It’s more normalized, yet potentially more risky. Clearly we’re all a little sexually confused.
And then there’s the issue of consent.
The general acceptance of drinking and sex as an optimal mix is an interesting illustration of the lag between policy changing on paper and the Canadian public taking the change to heart. The Canadian Criminal Code states that intoxication should not be confused with consent. I especially like the part that states that in order to not commit sexual assault, one must “take reasonable steps … to ascertain that [one’s partner is] consenting.”
Consent and shame really do not mix; ditto consent and intoxication. One has to actually ask for what one wants to do. One has to ask, if at all in doubt, and be ready to hear one’s partner’s thoughts. Rejecting, accepting, or negotiating honestly and openly about a partner’s desires are just normal components of the consent game. If embarrassment has one tongue-tied and drunkenness has one more impulsive than an oversized three-year-old, consent doesn’t really stand a chance.
If I’ve been intimate with someone before enough that I trust them, they trust me, and we’re familiar with each other’s boundaries, I might feel confident that even if they are drunk now, they will not regret the sex in the morning for any reason that I could have helped them avoid.
This is a lot of ifs, though. If I don’t know key things about the person, such as how they are going to feel about having had drunken sex with me the night before, this is a pretty good indication that I should keep my hands off until they are sober. That, to me, is a reasonable step to ascertain consent — one which I hope would be taken with me.
And how does one make all of these reasonable judgements if one is drunk, oneself?
For me, I decide before I get drunk how I am willing to foresee the night going. The people who I know are off-limits when I am sober remain off limits when I am drunk. What if one is so drunk that one cannot help oneself but have sex with someone they’re not supposed to? I would suggest that if endangering other people’s sexual boundaries is something that you cannot help but do when drunk, you seriously examine your drinking and how it might affect people in your life.
If you’re looking to engage sexually with a drunken partner because rejection is frightening, reflect upon this: you are hoping that what under normal, sober circumstances would be a “no” will under these circumstances become a “yes” because you are unwilling to honour the normal-circumstances “no.” Due to this, consent given when drunk is considered questionably valid (at best) according to the criminal code.
The party-pooper says: we all need to get over sexual shyness, and the drunken way doesn’t count. Don’t be the reason someone regrets last night.
Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate that a few glasses of wine and a romp with someone(s) you trust is amazing. It’s when acquaintances cross those lines for the first time completely hammered that it seems a little like socially-sanctioned tandem skydiving while sloshed.
“Where are we landing?”
“Did you pack a parachute?”
“I’m gonna puke!”
Is this really preferable to all possible alternatives, even if the alternatives demand potentially embarrassing conversation and radical, sober honesty? I’m a dreamer, so some days I imagine a society where rather than knocking ourselves out with a liquid-induced frontal lobotomy, we manage our sexual desires with courage and lucidity. I know it’s a lot to ask, but this party-pooper’s gotta dream.
Clay Nikiforuk is a recent Creative Writing graduate from UBC and lives in Montreal. She is currently writing her first book exploring and critiquing the sociology of sexual assault. When not reading, writing or getting into vehement debates with strangers, she is dancing, taking pictures, and an avid potluck-attendee. To help fund her book you can go to http://www.gofundme.com/jenniesbook.
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