By: Cam Fraser
There is a commonly believed narrative that alcohol universally drives sexual activity, provides an excuse to do something you wouldn’t do whilst sober, and is a reliable scapegoat when things get uncomfortable. I know this script because I’ve lived these exact experiences. During my time as a student at college, I drank and philandered in excess. Rarely were the two activities not partnered together. In fact, I became so reliant on alcohol that I bought right into the story of liquid courage, believing, when convenient, that my confidence with sexual partners came from drinking. But when I inevitably ruined the mood due to heavy intoxication, I was quick to blame the booze.
I remember one specific night, or rather the following morning, when I woke up in my own bed, naked, next to a young woman, also naked. I knew the woman, she was another student, and we had been flirting with each other earlier that night, however I don’t recall going to bed with her.
What I eventually found out through friends was that she had drunkenly come to my bedroom, where I was unconscious from inebriation, removed my clothes, performed oral sex on me and unsuccessfully tried to have intercourse with me.
I share this story because it wasn’t until very recently that I recognized this experience for what it is; a non-consensual sexual encounter. For me, coming to terms with this fact has raised a series of questions that need to be asked about the relationship between alcohol and consent.
Firstly, is drunk sex automatically non-consensual sex?
Sex under the influence of alcohol isn’t always non-consensual, but alcohol certainly makes it harder to both give and determine if you have consent. Issues arise when one partner is incapacitated by alcohol. However, different interpretations, both cultural and legal, exist regarding incapacitation. While it is impossible to have consensual sex with a passed-out person, consciousness can’t be the benchmark for consent. In these situations, it is important to check if the person you’re wanting to have sex with can communicate clearly, if they’re coherent, and if they’re sober enough to fully understand what is happening.
If you have any doubts, are confused or suspect that a person isn’t completely aware of what is going on, assume they are too drunk to consent to sex.
If you both agree to sex, it is still best to regularly check in with your partner about any sexual activity you’re doing.
Secondly, what if someone changes their mind about sex after they’ve had a few drinks?
People do change their minds and alcohol does lower inhibitions but treading with extra caution is the best advice in these situations. Consent is a continuous and enthusiastic whole-body agreement, not just a verbal polar answer. Again, regularly checking in with the other person, gauging how much they’ve had to drink between check-ins, and making sure they’re still capable of consent is of paramount importance.
Thirdly, what about situations where all people are drinking?
Drunkenness isn’t an excuse to commit sexual assault. If everyone is drinking, it is the responsibility of the initiator of the sexual activity to check for consent. If you’re the initiator, you must make sure you’re not so intoxicated that you can’t do this necessary check-in. Always ask again if you can’t remember and, before moving forward with anything, make sure the person you’re with can answer clearly.
It is important to challenge the narrative of alcohol’s relationship with consent. So often we are fed the story that alcohol is associated with utter powerlessness, perpetuating the false stereotypes of inherently aggressive men and passive women. This script completely ignores the fact that being drunk doesn’t preclude people from understanding what another person conveying.
There are always ways to establish enthusiastic, affirmative consent for all sexual activities. End of story.
CAM FRASER IS A CERTIFIED SEXOLOGIST AND REGISTERED YOGA TEACHER, SPECIALIZING IN YOGA-BASED SEX THERAPY. HE IS PASSIONATE ABOUT PLEASURE BASED, ALL-INCLUSIVE, SOMATIC SEX EDUCATION AS WELL AS SPEAKING SPECIFICALLY TO HIS DEMOGRAPHIC OF CISGENDER, HETEROSEXUAL, WHITE MALES. YOU CAN LEARN MORE ABOUT HIS WORK AT HIS WEBSITE, ON CAM'S INSTAGRAM OR THE KAMA WELLNESS INSTAGRAM.