Here’s why we need more conversation about consent.
Editor’s note: This is a difficult article to read, and to publish. It is a frank, open confession about a certain commonly-accepted form of rape culture, and readers with rape triggers should probably avoid reading it. We at the Good Men Project do not endorse or support the author’s worldview. We only believe it speaks to a common experience that is often taken for granted, often dismissed, and rarely talked about, except in vague and theoretical terms. We want to make very clear that we do not agree with the author’s conclusions, but we want people to understand that this type of thinking about party culture and consent exists.
When you party, when you move in party circles, you accept certain tradeoffs.
You accept that you’ll always be the bad guy in after-school specials and sitcoms about teenagers. You’re the bad kid who offers Buffy Summers a beer and gets her almost eaten by a snake demon. You accept that you won’t always be able to piece together everything that happened the next day. You’re forced to enjoy Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” not because you like Katy Perry but because you just plain recognize it.
You accept these tradeoffs because they come with amazing times. They come with glowing memories of an intensity entirely beyond the mundane, they come with crazy sex with amazing people, they come with living a few hours at a time in a world where anything, anything at all, can happen. I’ve moved from one party scene to another my whole adult life, because nobody wants to be that creepy old person or that inappropriately young person, but there are always plenty of people who won’t walk away from that incredible sense of liberation and possibility that you only find at the bottom of the bottle and a hot room full of crazy people.
I swear to God, it is only after the fact that you start figuring out that one of the tradeoffs you’ve accepted is a certain amount of rape. The way crooked businesses accept paying fines for their infractions as the cost of doing business, you gradually, an inch at a time, realize that some of the stories you’ve heard, some of the stories you’ve lived, didn’t involve what they call good consent nowadays.
With what I’ve learned as an adult, I’m pretty sure I’m technically a rapist. Technically nothing. One woman told me herself. Our encounter was years before—I’d been in a drinking contest and she’d been drinking and flirting with me (yes, actually flirting) all evening. As blurry and fucked-up as I was, I read her kiss of congratulation to me as a stronger signal than it was, and with friends hooting and cheering us on, I pressed her up against a wall and… well. Call it rape or call it a particularly harsh third base, I walked away with the impression that it had been consensual, if not really sensible. (She had a boyfriend at the time, but their boundaries were fuzzy.)
Years later, she was in a recovery program—not for alcohol, ironically—and she got in touch with me during the part where she made peace with her past. She wanted to clarify that what had happened between us was without her consent, that it hurt her physically and emotionally, that it was, yes, rape.
We talk about who is and is not a rapist, like it’s an inextricable part of their identity. “I’m a Libra, a diabetic, and a rapist.” That doesn’t work, though. Evidently I walked around for years as a rapist, totally unaware. Nobody stuck that label on me, I certainly never applied it to myself, even now it only feels like it fits when I’m severely depressed. The label, the crime, simply coalesced for me one day, dragging years of backstory behind it.
That is the damnable thing. We all cluck our tongues at those evil bastards who force themselves on girls—or guys—who are insensibly passed out. At the same time, we all acknowledge that a glass or two of wine helps pave the way for a lot of good times. And in the trackless, unmappable gray swamps in between, we cough and change the subject.
In the real world, especially among experienced drinkers, being blackout drunk doesn’t necessarily look like being passed out on the floor, helpless prey for any passing predator. It can look like being drunk, but fully in control. It can look like being passionately excited. It can look like being a great dancer. It can look like being very sexually aggressive.
It’s not just booze, of course. Ecstasy makes everything incredibly tactile and you want to touch everyone. Weed makes some people insatiably horny. I had to fend off a young woman recently who was talking a mile a minute and sliding her hands inside my shirt, I was still together enough to tell she wasn’t all there, on what turned out to be a mixture of acid and cocaine. There is plenty of fun stuff out there, but mostly it’s booze. For the majority of people, it’s going to be drinking they have to watch out for.
A friend of mine once told me about a girl who he knew for a fact had only had two drinks. He didn’t know she was on prescription medication that amplified those two drinks beyond all measure. He thought she was just very horny when she wouldn’t leave him alone or take “Are you okay?” for an answer. It wasn’t until she kept calling him by the wrong name and couldn’t remember the right one that he realized she was not able to consent, and called a halt to things before they went any further. He says he had to dissuade her from pursuing things further, because she was really into it, apart from not knowing who he was or where she was.
“Can you imagine?” he tells me in horrified tones. “I was almost a rapist.”
How do I tell him that I was in a similar position and made a different call? How do I tell him that I am what he’s terrified he almost was?
Here’s the plain, awful fact: people can have more and better sex drunk than they can sober. Some of the best, most fulfilling relationships of my life have started out with joyously drunken sex. I’ve had amazing times, orgies sometimes, where it’s simultaneously true that everyone’s consenting and having fun, and that they wouldn’t be consenting and having fun if they were stone sober.
Those aren’t the times that bother me. The ones that bother me are the ones where I got loaded, had some fun with a lady, and then she never wanted to contact me again. Messages go unanswered, social contact is dropped.
There are men, rape-apologist pieces of shit, who will tell you that women cry “rape” every time they have sex they later regret. I carry no brief for those assholes. What eats at me is that there’ve been cases, more than one and less than six, in my life where either explanation would seem plausible. If a woman had consensual sex with a guy because they were both drunk, and later she decided he was a loser and she regretted it, she might refuse to have further contact with him because, hey, awkward. But if a woman was raped by a man who thought she was still capable of consent when she was too far gone, she might refuse to have further contact with him because, hey, rapist.
That’s not the worst part either.
It’s been pointed out to me that I’m using a lot of heteronormative language here, men/me as rapist, women as rape victims, and I honest to God don’t mean to do that. It’s just the linguistic habits I grew up with.
But there have been times I’ve cut off all contact with women after drunkenly fooling around with them, the same criterion that, in reverse, makes me suspect myself of rape.
There have been times of “I regret going to bed with her” and times of “I don’t recall going to bed with her.”
There’s been at least one time I was informed, days after the fact, by multiple eyewitnesses, that I’d had sex with a girl. This came as news to me, and explained a couple messages I’d gotten from her, a girl I generally had no interest in getting involved with.
It must be bad manners to admit to being a rapist and to also say one is a rape survivor, all in one article. I don’t know any set of social mores where that’s okay. I certainly don’t feel like a rape survivor, whatever that’s supposed to feel like. I just can’t quite find a workable standard where I’m one but not the other. I don’t say that as any kind of apology or justification for my actions or my mistakes. I’m just trying to state the facts nobody ever quite wants to state.
Some might think it’s monstrous of me to keep drinking, keep partying. But I have had so many good, positive, happy experiences because I took a chance and altered my state and connected with someone else sexually, it seems crazy to throw all that away. Do people who’ve been in car accidents give up driving?
When I sit down and think about it, it seems like I’ve accepted a certain amount of rape as the cost of doing business, and so have most of the people I know. And that seems like the most sick, fucked-up, broken solution to anything ever. And maybe finding it livable-with condemns us all to hell. I don’t know. I can’t even talk about it under my own name.
Read more about rape culture and ways to talk about consent here: