As Valentine’s Day approaches, be aware of “hookup culture,” alcohol and issues of consent

By Julia Berkman

Tale as old as time, drunk as they can be; barely even friends, then somebody bends… Unexpectedly.

But is that okay? Is this story going to be beautiful or will it turn beastly? Where do college students draw the line when it comes to drunk sex?

To say that sex happens in college would be an understatement. It’s a pivotal part of the wistful look that many older adults get in their eye when they recount their glory days as undergrads. These days, drunk sex is just as common, and far more accepted. “Hookup culture,” the prevalence of the opinion that sexual partners don’t need to be in a relationship, is leading to many more one night stands.

However, drunk consent is becoming something of a legal blindspot.

The Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands website debunks the myth that the presence of drugs or alcohol negates the need for consent.

“When intoxicated, an individual cannot legally consent to sexual activity. Forcing sex on someone who is too drunk to give consent is still Criminal Sexual Conduct in the Third Degree,” the website states.

Forcing sex should be obviously a “no” in anyone’s book. The more perplexing part is this: What if both parties, both drunk, consent? Is this still considered assault? And if it is considered assault, which party is assaulted? I took to the bricks to find out what real Western students think about these difficult questions.

The answer I got is that there isn’t one clear-cut answer to this question. For some, hooking up while drunk is a weekly occurrence. For other students, like junior Abby Owen, it’s wrong to begin with.

“If both people are drunk and don’t know each other, it’s unsafe,” Owen said. “You don’t know about STIs, their preferences, et cetera.”

For others, the answer isn’t as black and white.

“You can’t really give consent when you’re drunk, for men and for women,” sophomore Esther Chong said. “It gets complicated if you start comparing how drunk people are. Even if both parties are drunk and expressing interest in hooking up, I feel like I’m still not sure it’s consensual.”

Sophomore Tristan Bedell stated: “I’d draw the line if you were at a certain level of drunkenness, say 4 beers, and were still able to identify that a person is more intoxicated than yourself.” Bedell continued, “If they can’t recall what they had for breakfast that morning, that’s where one should stop and think.”

According to the Court of Appeals of Ohio, “There can be a fine, fuzzy, and subjective line between intoxication and impairment. Every alcohol consumption does not lead to a substantial impairment.”

Impairment is a tricky thing to nail down. There are some who say if you can’t walk you can’t have sex. Others think if you can’t drive you can’t have sex. Those are two very different levels of intoxicated. There is no clear-cut rule or test you can do to see if someone can have sex; it’s all up to the participants.

However, there are obvious signs that a person is too drunk to even do basic functions. Is the eye-catching cutie stumbling? Slurring their speech? Throwing up? Or really tired? They cannot consent.

Many universities are moving towards the common DUI “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to sex, as CNN Legal Analyst Danny Cevallos said in an opinion piece on the subject.

“DUI law doesn’t care if that guy from your frat house appears fine after a keg stand and several bong hits,” Cevallos said. “Drugged driving liability centers on the binary question of whether any drugs were present at all in the bloodstream during the act.”

Western currently views the use of alcohol in a sexual situation as sexual coercion, not assault. According to the zero-tolerance rule, even if you aren’t impaired, drinking and having sex would be considered a violation of consent.

So, how do we proceed? Drunk hookups still happen all the time, yet most have no consequences. For the few that do, the blame that befalls the victim is influenced and exacerbated by their intoxication at the time.

Maybe you and another person have been beating around the bush for a while. Maybe you’re dating already. Even in that case, and as with every sexual encounter, you need to get clear consent before proceeding, even if it’s your hundredth time having sex. So, if you go out for the evening looking for a good time, you can still not consent to certain sexual activities. Consent is not a one-time thing.

Alcohol and sex mix all the time, but that doesn’t mean they should. Maybe next time, before you go for that drunk hookup, think about this: “Would I, or the person I’m about to sleep with, ever do this sober? Or is the alcohol making us both more open to it?” It can be difficult, in the heat of the moment, to keep these important questions in mind. Ultimately, the choice to have sex or not to have sex is up to you and your partner.

ABOVE: Love is in the air; be mindful of partners’ wishes when engaging in physical intimacy. Photo by Jaden Moon // AS Review

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