October 11, 2007

Three Letter Word—October 12, 2007

I confess that there is a particular appeal to being the stumbling drunk couple. You burst into a room full of slightly buzzed people, falling and yelling and kissing, making a mess of everyone until you disappear somewhere together. I have a weakness for a boy with a mason jar of whiskey, or a girl who blows perfect smoke rings. But, unsurprisingly, this leads me to consider the tricky questions of intoxication, seduction, and consent.

Legally speaking, nobody under the influence is qualified to give consent. Those poorly designed posters around campus tell us that much, complete with bullet points and awkward syntax. If you’re interested in legal citation, go find one. Personally, I’m fairly sure that no law governing the private sex lives of people is going to be particularly effective or relevant. By nature, laws are unable to deal with the context and complexity of actual experiences. They don’t really provide us with practical guidelines for ambiguous situations. Clearly, it is not okay to get somebody so drunk he’s incapacitated in order to have your creepy way with him. This should be obvious. But while we can automatically write off those with malicious, exploitative intentions, there are still areas of uncertainty.

An informal survey of my friends leads me to believe that there are some situations that most people think are OK, or at least wrong in a different way. For example, if a couple has been dating already and they have sex while drunk or high, the majority of the time this is considered consensual. If someone likes to smoke a joint with his significant other, watch cartoons, and have sex, it seems ridiculous to count it as some kind of violation of consent. But then again, if you’re only tipsy and your girlfriend is really out of it, or somehow resistant, you’re crossing a line. And what if two people, not previously involved, are both under some influence and hook up? This happens all the time, especially in college. Sometimes this is just fine, and sometimes it’s immoral.

As frustrating as it may be, there are really no absolute rules dictating what is and is not appropriate. Initiating sex acts can be sort of annoying and awkward, especially for us shy kids. It’s easy to feel unsure of yourself, and intoxication can be a useful pretext for dropping inhibitions. I’m pretty sure it’s all right to break the uncomfortable tension with a drink. So where is the line?

Getting someone drunk, or getting drunk with someone, in order to act on ulterior motives may not be creepy if the other person is aware of and shares those motives. But if we get messed up in order to act on things we’re too tentative to acknowledge verbally, how can you know what is all right? In a perfect world, I would simply tell someone that I wanted to make out with him or her, sober or not, and act accordingly, sober or not. It seems to me indicative of a greater issue that many of us waste time on communication and sexuality that isn’t honest. Instead, we stumble around to find something close enough. I don’t mean to say that we wouldn’t still drink if we were less inhibited while sober, but drinking would certainly be less necessary to keep us from feeling uncomfortable with each other.

The point of all this musing is my usual one: Talk to each other. I’m a hypocrite, of course, because I’m always afraid of weirding people out, or coming on too strong, or something. But the only real way to know whether or not you’re doing something stupid or wrong is to ask. Ask, and keep asking, and use your common sense. Is someone too drunk to remember your name? Here’s an important question: Are you doing something you would be doing sober, if only you were a little ballsier? Are they? Pay attention to how the person you are with is doing, on all levels. Hell, maybe even think about what you’re doing, and how. And if all of this attention and communication tells you that you’re not doing something wrong—wrong as in seriously wrong, not wrong as in oh-we’re-so-naughty—then enjoy yourself. After all, that’s what you’re there for.