Blacking Out and Hooking Up: The Link between Sex and Alcohol
By Myrel Iturrey
Published on Friday, November 11, 2011
Once upon a time, my floormate’s bed sheets roared with bright, floral pizazz. Then they met the Cohen dryer. She inspected the damage, distraught that the whimsical print had taken on the dull appearance of a wilted vegetable garden under the flickering laundry room lights.
“From now on,” she announced as she pulled them out of the machine, “we’re doing it in his room.”
Whether through second-hand accounts or first-hand experiences, sex will have worked its way into nearly every student’s life by the end of his or her Dartmouth career. The perception that the majority — if not all — of Dartmouth students are actually engaging in sexual activity catapults college freshmen from a situation in which “taking it slow” may be the norm to one in which intimacy progresses at a speedy pace.
“Think of it this way,” Nina Mascia ’15 said. “One month high school time is equal to one week Dartmouth time.”
Many come to college with a pre-meditated chronology of “appropriate” sexual behavior in mind. Until now, points along this imaginary line representing a relationship may have carefully regulated one’s reputation. Yet these guidelines rarely seem to last — intimacy is often “accelerated by the heat of the moment,” according to Mascia, and in many cases, with the aid of alcohol.
“I refrain from having sex for religious reasons, but I’m human and the presence of alcohol definitely does make me more inclined to, you know.” Emily Leede ’15 said. “It’s a matter of how strongly you hold your principles.”
Unlike Leede, many students fall victim to these desires and use alcohol to unshackle themselves from the inhibitions that would otherwise stop them from making the first move.
“It makes it much easier to cut to the chase when my sexual partner and I are drunk,” a ’14 male, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the subject, said. “We both tend to just want to get down to business.”
Nick Cuhna ’15 agreed, emphasizing that despite the male stereotype of “seeking a one-night stand,” both men and women use alcohol in this way.
“They use alcohol as a means to achieve that goal, or sometimes as an excuse to do something that would not be socially acceptable,” Cuhna said.
While alcohol may open channels for sexuality, it can also muddle the definition of mutual consent.
“When you drink alcohol, you carry a whole new responsibility because you don’t have the same cognitive functions,” Cuhna said. “People often forget about that responsibility because they’re having fun.”
Cuhna added that there exists “a very thin line between too much fun and disaster” — a line between consensual sex and assault which alcohol can blur.
Consent is defined as a “verbal, positive, ongoing, enthusiastic ‘yes’,” according to Amanda Childress, coordinator of the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program, and other sexual violence professionals. In the state of New Hampshire, a person can be convicted of felonious sexual assault if his or her partner has consumed “any intoxicating substance which mentally incapacitates the victim,” according to the state criminal code. That said, students and campus educators interviewed by The Mirror emphasized moral rather than legal responsibility in decisionmaking.
“It’s beyond a legal issue, it’s a personal issue,” Cuhna said. “There’s nothing more emotionally scarring than being abused — guy or girl. I don’t really have it in me to take advantage of someone. It would really mess me up.”
But in practice, to what extent do student perceptions of the definition of “consent” deviate from a literal verbal exchange? Is putting our hormones on hold for a minute to ask for consent a natural step in the escalation of sexual activity?
“I’ve never experienced that particular conversation, although I know it’s definitely a good idea to secure consent before taking things to the next level,” the ’14 male said. “In my experience it has always been more of a ‘she just pulled down my pants and grabbed my penis, I’m pretty sure she knows what’s going on here’ kind of rationale.”
Until recently, Dartmouth has fallen short in educating students about the knitty-gritty realities regarding consent. In the last few years, SAAP and its satellite organizations including Mentors Against Violence and Sexual Assault Peer Advisors have picked up the slack in addressing the gray areas.
“Consent can either be verbal or physical,” Meg Heisler ’14, who completed her training as a MAV this past weekend, said. “It doesn’t have to be verbal for it to be legitimate.”
Looks like the ’14 male was somewhat justified in his observation — if said lady was not blacked out or otherwise incapacitated.
“With that, we’re pushing the idea that we want [consent] to come from a free and sound mind, so people aren’t at the point that they are so incapacitated that they can’t give a free-willed ‘yes’,” Childress said.
Many students interviewed also said that there is a notable difference between sober and intoxicated sexual experiences. While expectations run high, drunken performance often falls short.
“I have personally experienced both the ‘too drunk to keep it up’ and ‘too drunk to finish it’ sides of that,” the ’14 male said. “I enjoy having sex when I’m drunk, but not nearly as much as I do when I’m sober.”
Clearly, gulping down gallons of Reds and playing eenie-meenie with potential partners does not an enduring and successful relationship make. But success is relative. If you and your partner are able to justify success as not rolling off the twin extra-long during the deed, then perhaps you will both make it out of the uncomfortable morning-after scene satisfied.