Why Feminists Don’t Get Drunk

feminist photoby Amy Gutman

It’s been a month since Slate’s Emily Yoffe sparked an Internet firestorm with her essay “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk,” which urged female students to protect themselves from sexual assault by not getting wasted at parties. That’s an eon in cyber-time, but the furor has yet to die down — a testament to the strength of the passions Yoffe tapped into.

In the eyes of her critics (and they are legion) Yoffe’s warnings are dangerously regressive, placing the focus on female behavior when it should be on rapists and perhaps even offering rapists license to operate. “Warning women about heavy drinking places the burden of not being sexually assaulted squarely on the shoulders of the victims,” is how one writer put it.

There is a world of difference between saying: ‘Don’t get drunk because men will look at you and see a vulnerable woman,’ as Yoffe repeatedly suggests, and ‘Don’t drink because it strips you of agency — the power to think and act on your own behalf.’

I see it differently — perhaps because, 30 years ago, I was one of these young women.

The rest of this essay can be found, and originally appeared, on the website Cognoscenti.


Amy Gutman is a senior writer at Harvard School of Public Health and a facilitator for the OpEd Project. In a previous life, she practiced law. She blogs here.



Alcohol and Date Rape: A Loaded Topic

date rape adAlcohol and Date Rape: The topic is so loaded, it’s hard to get people to talk about it without it devolving into the equivalent of sticking one’s hands in one’s ears and chanting “La la la la I can’t hear you!”

Better to admit that there are many ways of looking at the situation, as they have in today’s New York Times Room for Debate.

Following are some excerpts from “Young Women, Drinking and Rape”: (And please feel free to weigh in with your own opinions in the comments below):

Anne M. Coughlin, the Lewis F. Powell Jr. professor of Law at the University of Virginia: “Rather than seeking to achieve gender equality by advising women that they are entitled to drink as much as men, we might consider condemning this behavior in both genders.”

Mychal Denzel Smith, Knobler fellow at The Nation Institute: “If we stopped blaming binge drinking (or short skirts, or too-high heels, etc.) we could concentrate on having men not just understand that “no means no,” and that all forms of sexual contact require consent, but also learn to reject that force, domination and coercion are natural markers of masculinity and manhood. Until we reckon with those concepts, women will continue being expected to prevent their own rapes.”

Koren Zailckas,  author of “Smashed, Story of a Drunken Girlhood” : “It’s simply a fact. The vast majority of campus rapes happen when the rapist, the victim or both are drunk. 

And so alcohol education is essential for students of every gender.”

Alexandra Brodsky, editor at Feministing, a student at Yale Law School and a founding co-organizer of Know Your IX, a legal education campaign against campus sexual violence: “The most ladylike comportment, though, can’t immunize us against the real cause of violence: social dominance. Instead, it renders us too demure to fight for a better world.”

Louise M. Antony,  professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the co-editor, with Charlotte Witt, of “A Mind of One’s Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity”:  “But the special risk that drunkenness poses to women – that’s due to a social climate that tolerates sexual predation. When we tell young women to stay sober in order to avoid getting raped, we send the message that we do not intend to change that social climate, that we have chosen to regard misogyny as inevitable.”

Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University and the author of “Black Greek 101: The Culture, Customs and Challenges of Black Fraternities and Sororities”: “Much of the research on binge drinking indicates that African American students engage in this practice less than their white peers, and that acquaintance rape at college is less of a problem for black women.

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Drunk Sex, How I Miss You (Sometimes, Anyway)

bar kiss for drinking diariesBy Rachel Kramer Bussel

I stopped drinking, pretty much for good, over two years ago. I don’t tend to stare longingly at people drinking in bars, or feel too wistful, but the times when I’m overwhelmed with temptation for alcohol are usually times when I’m consumed by the desire for…desire–for getting fucked, along with getting fucked up.

To put it simply, I miss drunk sex. Well, one kind of drunk sex. I certainly don’t miss the “I’m going to drink so I get up the courage to put the moves on someone.” I tried that last year and while I got my much-fantasized-about makeout session, it was so not worth it, and was also just a one-time thing (as opposed to the let’s-move-in-together relationship I’d pictured). So now every time I see the person, I feel like an idiot. I also don’t miss waking up in someone’s bed and not knowing their name, or getting drunk just so I could get in the spirit of sex. Nor do I miss drinking in the hopes that it would make me look more attractive to someone I wanted to get with.

But I am a bit nostalgic for the sweet, swoony buzz from a good drink or two–the kind that used to make me feel warm and liquid and a little light-headed. The kind of buzz that made me both ferociously horny and oblivious to who saw me making out (or more) in taxis, restaurants, wherever. I miss the bliss of getting lost in both the alcohol and the person I’m with so that it feels like there is no tomorrow.

It’s hard to get to that place of utter focus on sex and just sex, for me, anyway, with the umpteen thoughts, doubts and uncertainties racing through my head. When I am able to reach that place of body over mind, of sensation over stress, though, sex provides both pleasure and relief, along with a way to feel closer to my partner.

The whole reason I stopped drinking is that it didn’t obliterate my thoughts, doubts and uncertainties; at least, not permanently (if it did, well, maybe I’d return to vodka). As soon as the buzz wore off, my feelings would just return with a vengeance, and no amount of hot sex or even being in love could make them go away.

I remember exactly when I stopped drinking, pretty much for good. I was buying fifteen of my closest friends dinner and martinis to celebrate a book deal (ah, hubris!) and getting increasingly wasted. I told everyone I had to leave at 9 for a podcast interview. About sex, my primary beat. Well, 9 rolled around, and went, and I was getting perilously close to the appointed time. I wound up calling in from my taxi home, then blathering away about orgasms from my bed while the room spun around me.

Some things are fun to do drunk, and maybe it’s just me, but trying to act serious and professionally knowledgeable isn’t one of them. I later became good friends with the host of the show, who said she had no idea, but still. I knew.

(Listen here if you want to determine for yourself whether I sound smashed: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/datingroadkill/2007/02/13/a-surprise-valentines-day-show).

I was never one of those savoring-the-fine-wine types of drinkers. I was more like, “Which drink will get me out of my head fastest?” The drunken podcast was the culmination of one too many mornings waking up feeling like I’d made a fool of myself the night before. That, plus coming from a family of alcoholics, made me decide that the best course of action was to quit cold turkey. I allowed myself the occasional (once or twice a year) drink, but even that–I’ve recently decided–is a bit too much for me to handle.

I don’t know if not drinking makes me a better lover or not. I think it probably makes me a boring date. The other night a really hot girl asked in a way that could only be called overtly flirty what I wanted to drink. “A seltzer?” I said in the hesitant way I still have, knowing that’s about as big a buzzkill of an answer as one can provide, since I’ve also sworn off Diet Coke. “I’m a cheap date,” I tried to joke.

“A seltzer with…” She looked at me so intensely, I truly wished I could add something boozy, if only to let her know that I thought she was hot and that I was potentially interested. I think some people take my non-drinking as an automatic sign that I’m not interested in them, which just isn’t true. I hate that drinking is so often the way we define our sexual interests, as if those of us who don’t booze it up are also celibate.

That being said, the kind of sex I’m most likely to be having right now is with my boyfriend, and it is, with rare exceptions, wild, kinky, rough. There’s spanking and choking and bondage and dirty talk and blowjobs and it all happens really fast and furious. There’s no way I could relax enough to submit sexually to him if I were wasted, and I wouldn’t want to be anything other than fully present. I need to be alert to make sure that what we’re doing is safe, to fully process and enjoy it. If I were drunk (or if he were), I’d fear that we might go too far and do things we might regret. With my thinking faculties intact, I can exult in the enjoyment of pushing boundaries.

Perhaps for some people, being drunk gives them permission to “go wild” in a sexual way, but if I’m with someone I want to be with, I don’t have those qualms at all. I like kinky sex, I like pushing my own personal erotic envelope. I get off on the occasional moments of fear or uncertainty that come with trusting someone else to set the tone, rules, and course of the sexual action. If my senses were dulled by drinking, I’d miss out on all the nuances of our play. I trust my instincts more when I’m sober.

That doesn’t mean every time I have sex it’s perfect and magical. But when it’s not, I deal with it; I figure out a way to either make it better or pause and restart another time. When I drank, I rarely checked in with myself like that. I thought I needed sex, and the feeling of being attractive, to “make” me feel better. Now I know that even the hottest sex isn’t a panacea.

Still, sometimes when my boyfriend orders a drink, I’m tempted to have one of my own. It looks fun, easy, comforting. In some ways, it’s not so much about sex as wanting to fit in, because not drinking makes you stand out in most any bar, and for someone who craves others’ approval, that’s not always easy. It’s not that I’d spiral into nightly drunkenness if I had one drink, but it’s infinitely healthier for my psyche, not to mention my body, if I abstain.

Maybe simply remembering my days of drunken sex, as hazy as they are, is enough, but even if it’s not, it’s the choice I’m making. I’ll leave the hot, drunk sex to someone else. May they enjoy it!

Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) is a New York-based author, editor and blogger. She’s edited over 25 anthologies, including The Mile High Club, Do Not Disturb, and Best Sex Writing 2009, and is host of the monthly In The Flesh Reading Series (inthefleshreadingseries.com). In her PG life, she blogs at Cupcakes Take the Cake (http://cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com), for which she’s appeared on The Martha Stewart Show.


A New Study Links Alcohol to Unsafe Sex

couple drinking in bedIt will come as no surprise that drinking lots of alcohol often goes hand-in-hand with bad decision making. But up until now, scientists had yet to come up with a direct cause and effect relationship regarding alcohol and unprotected sex.

In the January issue of the journal Addiction, a new study reports that researchers in Canada conducted 12 experiments to test the theory. The results–yes, rather obvious–confirmed that drinking alcohol affects decision-making, and the more alcohol one drinks, the more impaired the decision making. As the results show, for every 0.1mg/mL increase in blood alcohol level, study participants were 5 percent more likely to engage in unsafe sex.

While the findings may not seem overly newsworthy, they do confirm the direct connection between alcohol and sexually transmitted diseases. The study’s conclusion states that  “alcohol use is an independent risk factor for intentions to engage in unprotected sex, and as risky sex intentions have been shown to be linked to actual risk behavior, the role of alcohol consumption in the transmission of HIV and other STDs may be of public health importance.”

“Drinking has a causal effect on the likelihood to engage in unsafe sex, and thus should be included as a major factor in preventive efforts for HIV,” said principal investigator Juergen Rehm of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, in a statement. “This result also helps explain why people at risk often show this behavior despite better knowledge: alcohol is influencing their decision processes.”

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Just Because She Isn’t Saying No, Doesn’t Mean She’s Saying Yes

Last week, in a victory for women, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 6-3 that there can be no sexual consent in law when a woman is unconscious.

Simple, right? Not so fast. The 3 dissenters (all men) argued that it would “further women’s right to autonomy to create a new doctrine of ‘advance consent,’ so that unconscious women can have ‘sexual adventures.’” Huh?

“But can unconscious women enjoy sexual pleasure or exercise autonomy?” law professor Elizabeth Sheehy wrote in the Vancouver Sun. “Unconsciousness is the very antithesis of autonomy. At the very least, this view represents an impoverished understanding of ‘autonomy.’It is also terribly abstracted from the reality of women’s lives, in which the sexual assault of women who are unconscious, whether from intoxication, medications, episodic disability or other causes, is a serious and widespread social problem.”

The Court’s decision makes no exceptions for husbands and wives, or cohabiting couples: You can literally get arrested for sexually touching your sleeping partner.

But honestly, how many people are going to report their partner if everything is okay between them. The law is meant to protect women in violent relationships, where “consent” may mean coerced under pressure or threat of abuse to consent.

Granted, the case in question was complicated: a woman supposedly “agreed” to being strangled unconscious, bound and penetrated with a dildo. The Court was not allowed to consider the context, which was that the offender was an abuser with a criminal record of weapons and violent offenses, including two previous convictions for assaulting the complainant.

I’m sure we can all think of many possible, complicated scenarios and loopholes (what if a woman is drunk, says yes to sex, and then passes out in the middle of it?)

But this is an important start. The bottom line is: The Court reinforced the idea that consent should be “conscious, continuing, contemporaneous with the sexual activity and revocable at any point.”

Perhaps there are some women who get off on strangulation—the “unconscious sexual adventure” the dissenting justices were most likely referring to. But, as professor Sheehy states, “strangulation is a significant risk factor for intimate femicide. Allowing ‘advance consent’ would have risked normalizing abusive and potentially lethal behaviour. It also would have made it effectively impossible to prosecute the assault of unconscious women. The high court’s clear ruling that unconscious women are sexually unavailable is a welcome and clear message for the Canadian public.”

To further the message, Canada has an edgy new ad campaign, with a woman passed out on a couch, liquor bottles surrounding her, and the message: “Just Because She Isn’t Saying No, Doesn’t Mean She’s Saying Yes.”

Amen to that.