Can we create a safer party culture for all?
Throughout my undergraduate, non-consensual sex was an issue that was around constantly, but in the beginning I never paid it much mind. It wasn’t until spending time in my boyfriend’s residence at MacEwan University that I really began to notice the existence of the mindset held by individuals like the anonymous author of “I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying.” My party crowd at the time consisted of pseudo-hippy ravers and whether the party was held at a hall or a house, I was always surrounded by friends. These were seasoned partiers who looked after me, and I needed the protection. On many occasions I have had to be extracted from a situation. I remember one time being pulled off of a couch at a party in which I had chosen to happily snuggle in with a man I didn’t know. “Danielle what are you doing? Don’t cuddle with strangers … ” my friend said as she exasperatedly pulled me up.
The college crowd was a little different; many of the people I met were just moving out and experiencing the freedom of living away from their parents for the first time. Cookies and vodka for dinner! Kraft dinner at midnight! These are the days of our lives. Most of these young adults had not known each other for a long time. Young men and women filled the hallways on the weekend seeking those moments of transcendent bliss Anon speaks of, those “glowing memories of an intensity beyond the mundane.”
That sounds nice and all, and to be a young person is a unique and carefree experience, but the consumption of drugs and alcohol make it difficult to make safe judgments around sexual activity. Once I began to hear whispers of drunk young women being brought back to dorms and passing out—waking up shame-filled over the activities that had taken place the night before—I was confronted with a dilemma. As I was a young feminist, and rape is a vile and disgusting act, I immediately shunned the person accused of rape, and encouraged others to do the same. They didn’t. It was frustrating.
I would see these same people who had flouted a line of responsibility court other young drunken people. I remain a shameless cock-blocker in situations like that. Not because I’m a sadist who likes depriving people of fun but because, one way to prevent rape is to call a person out on questionable behavior. Too often among my boyfriend’s friends they would shrug off what had happened, and remain friends with people who kept having questionable sex with very intoxicated women. By doing nothing you passively encourage this behavior. Don’t be friends with rapists.
Desire flows strong enough in young veins that it can wait until both parties are a little more alert before progressing into uncharted sexy waters. A part of being in college or going out partying is a desire for new, and exciting sexual experiences.
I don’t mean to point to men as the only predators in this swamp. I have heard men tell me similarly disturbing stories about going home very drunk with a woman and feeling uncomfortable about the sexual experience in hindsight.
Cosmopolitan actually ran an article called “A New Kind of Date Rape” in which they explored the icky area of what is known as ‘grey rape.’ They mention experts who are positing that this ‘grey rape’—a term which deserves its own article—is a natural extension of the hook-up culture. What you need to understand most is that rape is not collateral damage from a night of drunken activity. It’s not excusable to assume that into every party a little rape must fall. That’s ridiculous. However, even the existence of terminology of rape being ‘grey’ or for that matter ‘legitimate’ points to the need for widespread education around responsible party behaviors and what consent looks like.
A common theme in many stories of drunken sexual encounters is that consent is not explicitly obtained. We’re dealing with situations where there’s no enactment of the “no means no” rule, but neither is there the explicit consent given of “yes means yes.” The “yes” needs to be from someone who is clear-headed enough to be making that decision. This buzz-kill idea actually protects both parties, so neither of you one day end up writing the sentence: “With what I have learned as an adult, I’m pretty sure I’m technically a rapist.”
Like me, many people may be unaware of the gravity and frequency with which sexual assault occurs. The anonymous writer provides a clear view of the mindset of other people that you will find, out in those fun alcohol-laden (or ecstasy, coke, ketamine, etc) nightclubs or friend’s houses. It’s a mindset I experienced myself when people would shrug off the stories of drunk-to-the-point-of-passing out young women being carried into residences and penetrated by multiple partners on the common room couch.
Young men and women are beginning to learn that “yes means yes,” but what is still missing from the education young people need to avoid rape is the necessity of taking agency for ourselves. Alcohol clouds judgment, and it’s easy to find yourself in a party situation where the sexual encounter is moving too fast, whether you’re the one pushing or the one going along. We have to advocate for ourselves in these moments. You can’t rely on the other person, who could be an insensitive jerk or could be blackout drunk themselves, to allow you a chance to say no—you need to take agency.
The trouble with ‘grey rape’ is that it looks different from what we tend to think of as rape.
There are a few easy things you can do to still have fun and not end up in this situation (a special shout out to my friend Amy Gandolfi who chatted this out with me on Twitter):
- Go out in groups. Remember me cuddled up on the couch with Mr. Stranger? Your friends know you, and often they can tell when you are in a bad situation even better than your drunk ass.
- Be wary. Don’t go to private places with someone if you aren’t sure you trust them (and its corollary, Don’t trust people you’ve just met). The temptation to give in to having sex may be too great in this situation. You may end up feeling obligated—remember even if you feel obligated it doesn’t mean you are.
- Wait. I don’t mean you have to wait until you get married, but you can wait until you know someone a little better before diving into bed with him or her. This gives you a chance to make discover whether they’re trustworthy, and to make sure that you are both completely into this, and that neither of you is likely to regret this in the morning. The first time you have sex with someone new is generally pretty exciting, anyway. You can always begin by rolling around sober and then getting drunk with them, if that’s your thing.
- Get a fuck-buddy. If there ever was a safety feature built into hook-up culture, this is one. If you have someone you can casually sleep with (provided you set out very clear boundaries of what you are looking for) then you can still have exciting encounters with a lower level of risk. Keep an open mind, too, because these can turn into meaningful relationships.
- Kinky and hooking up? Go to ‘munches’—events where kinky people hang out—with no expectations. Get to know someone before you agree to be bound, gagged and helpless. Lay firm ground rules. (If you need a tool to facilitate this conversation, consider this Yes, No, Maybe chart.) Set safe words. Read everyone’s favorite sex advice columnist, Dan Savage—don’t read 50 Shades of Grey.
Image credit: Vato Bob/Flickr