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Alcohol & Consent: Why the Double Standard?

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Whacked out, drunken-ass consent is still consent; otherwise we have to reexamine a woman’s right to drink.



I agree 100%. Thanks for writing this article.


This is based on the logic within the article and the provided alternative point of view (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom's campaign).

This article seems to make a non-controversial issue into something that sounds controversial by using a lot of mental gymnastics and unfair comparisons. It confuses 'consent' and 'responsibility'. You consent to a contract vs. you are responsible for a crime/ being reckless. The comparison between drunk driving vs. giving drunk consent works to blur the important distinction (legally and ethically significant).

As for the key message in the article and the opposing stance (the advocacy group link they provide), I don't see the conflict. The article's stance: we undervalue the ability of women to make choices, vs. the advocacy group: people should know their right to choose. Their purposes are different and perhaps complimentary rather than contradictory.

As for their stance on 'consent' under the influence, they are also not opposing. The article says its consensual when the person is still well-functioning and understands what is going on, whereas the advocacy group says "The consenter must be able to knowingly understand the impact of the consent given." Therefore, both do not condone consent from someone who is "too drunk" (passed out, unable to function, or unable to understand what is going on).

As for 'responsibility', the advocacy group talks about it in terms of the responsibility of the initiator (responsible for not causing harm to/ respecting a non-consenter), whereas the article takes about the responsibility of the consenter (responsible for not being drunk/ reckless). I don't see these as opposing, but complimentary since both are only half the issue.

Taking their messages together is better than perceiving conflicts where they don't exist. Taken together, they say something like the following: be responsible for how much you drink since you can still consent if able to function and understand the impact of your decision, but know your right to refuse consent and that right should be respected or the initiator is responsible.

Yes, women should be seen, like men, as having the ability to take responsibility for their bodies.. and yes, not all men in that situation are date rapists (article)... but we should hold the aggressor responsible if consent is infringed upon (advocacy group).


Article focuses entirely too much on gender - keeps debating whether women can give consent when drunk... Whether women should be allowed to drink... But gender is pretty much irrelevant.

The same case can be made for men. Men make stupid decisions when drunk as well. Men wind up having sex with folks they wish they hadn't. Men can be raped as well.

This isn't just a matter of whether women should be responsible for their actions when drunk. If we're going to be absolving people of responsibility for their drunken actions, it'd have to be across-the-board.


Misora - You raise an interesting point about somebody manipulating the other by way of alcohol; but then again up comes the whole point of personal responsibility. Just because you succumb to peer pressure, you're still responsible for what you drink. Look at it again with the drink-driving metaphor. If your friend pressured you into doing a bunch of shots and you then decided, while drunk, to get into a car and got into an accident, you couldn't blame that on your friend because he didn't *force* you to drink (although I believe bartenders can be sued for "overserving.) Obviously there's a predatory, manipulative aspect to that; but it's where the gender disparity appears again. This is largely spoken about as an issue that only effects women. Men are expected to be "man enough" to decide for themselves how much to drink. Women are presented by society as poor, innocent, fragile flowers who can't take responsibility for that themselves.


Steve111 - I agree that this shouldn't be a controversial opinion, but it is. Many people, like the examples I gave in the article, say that a drunk woman - not passed out, but drunk and functioning - cannot consent to sex, while she is still considered capable of consenting to a variety of other things; like racking up a bar bill, or driving a car. The fact that there's one rule for one situation (a sexual situation, involving a woman) and one rule for everything else illustrates a popular double standard.


ephemeriis - The article focuses on gender because that's THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE ARTICLE. There are different standards applied to men and women regarding alcohol, sex and consent. In an supposedly equal society, that's a double standard. It ties into common perceptions of gender; women are somehow viewed as weaker and less capable of making their own decisions than men. Isn't that wrong?


The writer needs to revisit contract law...

Shielding C  

The philosophy behind statutory rape is very similar. A child of fifteen or sixteen may well express a desire to have sexual relations with a thirty-year-old, but because the child lacks the life experience and brain development to put him or her on even footing with an adult, the law (correctly, imho) determines that the child cannot legally give consent. The author of this article uses one's ability to be charged with crimes while under the influence as proof that the law considers drunken people capable of making good decisions, even using the example that, "If instead of climbing out of a window, Edith Zimmerman had clambered behind the wheel, the cops wouldn’t have let her off a DUI simply because she was 'too drunk' to make the decision whether to drive or not." The irony of this argument is that it completely neglects the implications of DUI being a crime in the first place - legally it is assumed that people under the influence of alcohol make such poor decisions that the very act of operating a vehicle is cause for alarm. If this author sincerely believes that society as a general rule does or should accept the words and actions of the inebriated as perfect representations of their true intentions and/or abilities, then I would be very interested to hear his explanation for the apparent coincidence that people tend to drink heavily on the weekends or at night, as opposed to weekdays in the office. I would be very interested to see his reaction if a lawyer using his arguments were to show up drunk for court. On a side note, I'm not sure why he persistently refers to 'womens' rights' and a 'double standard'. The law holds that any intoxicated person, male or female, is unable to give consent. A man who has had excessive amounts of alcohol and then engaged sexually by a female is perfectly within his rights to report this as a rape to authorities.


Evie - I studied contract law for two years, thank you very much. Do some research and I'll think you'll find courts are generally not very sympathetic to people who try to get out of a contractual obligation by claiming they were drunk. There are exceptions, but it's up to the individual court and jurisdiction.

Shielding - So you're basically saying that a woman who chooses to drink to the point of intoxication and consent willing to sex lacks the "life experience and brain development" to make that personal decision for herself? And while legally men might have the same right to report sex-while-drunk as "rape", how many times have you heard that happen? While discussions about alcohol and consent regarding women - as in the two examples I gave in this article - are fairly common. It's very clear society in general holds men and women to different standards; and seems to act like women are incapable of making decisions for themselves.

Shielding C  


No, I'm not saying that intoxicated men or women lack brain development and life experience; I said that about children. Intoxicated persons do experience impaired cognitive function, however. That is why there are MANY instances, outside of the alcohol/consent issue, in which people operating under the influence of alcohol are treated differently, legally as well as socially, from those who are sober. In scenarios where drunken people make decisions that cause harm to others (DUI, showing up drunk to work or any situation in which others depend on you), the law and social custom generally seek to reproach the behavior via criminal penalty, sanctions, and disapproval. In scenarios where drunken people are in danger of being harmed by others or causing harm to themselves, the law tends to take a more precautionary/protective stance (hence protective custody, consent laws, etc.). The overarching goal here is very clearly harm reduction. The consent laws are written this way to reduce the likelihood of rape; otherwise scenarios in which people are raped under the influence are in most cases next-to-impossible to prosecute. It reduces the instances of sexual assault, and it doesn't significantly raise the odds of someone's civil liberties being infringed upon. If someone under the influence willingly has sex, they won't have cause to report a crime. I am conscious of that apocryphal anecdote of some socially omnipotent female "crying rape" for attention or spite, to the immediate and utter social destruction of a helpless male accused - however, the reality of the situation is that in the United States, the rate of convictions for reported rapes is 13% (a global high; the UK and many European nations range around 6%). The negative social stigma, the cost of energy and time, and the constant humiliation of intense public scrutiny must all be endured by the person who reports a rape; it's really not something any man or woman in their right mind would do just for kicks.

As for your second point - I wholeheartedly agree. The stigma of men reporting rape is far greater than that of women reporting rape. This is a very valid example of society holding men and women to different standards, and it is not fair. My question to you is - are you helping to reduce this unfairness in writing an article about consent and alcohol that rehashes the stereotypical image of a woman-as-accuser, male-as-accused?

Shielding C  


It occurred to me that if I remove the legal argument from your article, your main point of concern is the growing trend toward third-party social involvement reducing the autonomy of individual women. The first example you cite has a random commentator on the web hypothetically labeling as a rape an experience Edith herself categorizes as date-like. If the double-standard you keep referring to in the article and in your replies to comments is entirely social, I think you have a really interesting point; there does seem to be something of an impulse in society to stereotype women as helpless and to see the interactions of socially uninhibited women in terms of victimization. It's pretty brazen for some random blogger to read an article a woman writes comfortably describing her choice in social activity and immediately respond, "Oh, you were totally raped." I think now that your main point in writing this article is that it is socially damaging when society as a whole tries to control the way individuals perceive their own experiences.


People such as Sheilding seem to TOTALLY miss one salient point, which is that in many if not MOST situations where the WOMAN is so drunk she doesn't remember anything the next day, the MAN is ALSO that drunk, so HE may not be in a position to "legally consent," either.

And under such circumstances, it's ENTIRELY POSSIBLE that THE WOMAN was THE INITIATOR, as one of the most prominent features of alcohol intoxication is a complete loss of inhibitions -- particularly a loss of normal social norms and fears of doing things such as being the aggressor in a sexual situation, when that would USUALLY not be something you might EVER do sober. In the event both a woman and man who already share some attraction are both very intoxicated, if EITHER ONE OF THEM proposes sex to the other, barring some third party intervening, it's highly likely they will pursue that course of action unless one of them passes out first. And unless one of them can remember everything that happened, I think it's just as likely it was HER who proposed having sex as it was HIM. So should SHE be charged with rape, if that's the case???

Frankly, I DESPISE Sarah Palin, and I TRULY don't agree with many of the things she says about America becoming "A Nanny State." But THIS sort of thing IS very much "Nanny Statish." If one of the parties has a negative memory of the night, and remembers protesting the sex, then there was sexual assault, or rape. Otherwise, sex or not, it was consenting and is NOBODY'S BUSINESS.

We need to grow up and get a life! Geesh!

Yaknow, back in the early 70s, before I was even old enough to vote, I was a BIG support of the ERA, and STILL support equal rights (for everyone). But equal rights ALSO mean EQUAL RESPONSIBILITIES. It TRULY strikes me that some feminists (as well as more than a few civil rights leaders), don't see things that way. Reverse sexism and racism are just as bad as what they claim to be opposing, maybe worse, because of the backlash they could engender!


Hi Shielding,

I just read your most RECENT post and see you have somewhat amended your views as you've come to what I consider a better understanding of what the author and Steve were saying. I'm happy about that and wanted to apologize if I came off too strong in my post above using you as an example of someone who "doesn't get it," so to speak.

By the way, I think TRUE date rape, in many ways, can be WORSE than violent, grab-em-on-the-street rape. Why? Because it can destroy a woman's ability to trust ANY man, possibly for life. I'm single, and looking for that life partner. My "soul mate" could be someone cloistered away in a room somewhere afraid to go out any more because of some past date rape she was too embarrassed or scared to ever report (and so she never got any counseling) -- or she did, and it just made things worse, as maybe the rapist had liar friends alibi for him and them made her life a living hell, or something. I truly feel for ladies like that. But I ALSO feel for all the men, like me, who may be missing the company of some wonderful women who've been scarred for life by date rape.

Shielding C  

KinkMeister -

I highly recommend you read my posts before forming judgements. Legally any intoxicated person, male or female, is unable to give consent. So - YES, a WOMAN can ALSO be CHARGED with DATE RAPE. LEGALLY there is NO double standard.


I think people get too wrapped up in specifics and that the question is best thought of in more general terms. Ignoring legalities in favor of logical arguments, because the legal system should follow logic, it seems to me that these are the major pertinent questions.

1. Is a person responsible for their actions when influenced by a drug?

2. Are there there exceptions to this responsibility?

3. If so, what are they and why?

4. Does it matter how intoxicated they are?

5. If so, how does one determine the level of intoxication required absolve people of responsibility?

6. Is it the responsibility of others to determine a person's level of intoxication before helping them engage in an action?

You have to approach these question in a general sense in order to use consistent logic. Barring that, you must to have a logical reason for why an exception should be made.

My personal opinion is that a person should be responsible for ALL of their actions no matter how intoxicated. If a person decides to consent to/participate in a sexual encounter then it is no different than consenting/deciding to drive a car. Yes, this means that a person may make a decision they regret which was already the case in regards to other actions they could have taken. A reasonable person knows this and does what they can to avoid situations that make this likely. This tackles questions 1 through 5.

Question 6 is not quite as important, given my answers to the precious questions. A person is ultimately responsible for their own actions. That said, a moral person would do what they can to reasonably insure that a possibly intoxicated person is being safe. In the case of a valet, handing the keys to a drunk driver is doing them and others a disservice, but it is hard to determine the level of intoxication and a valet is ultimately not responsible for the drivers actions. In the case of a sexual encounter, one should be sure to get consent. Now, should they ensure that the other person is of sound mind at the time? This gets complicated as it may be virtually impossible to tell. I think that consent is enough, if your partner gives you the go ahead nothing else should be required. Most people do not have a way of determining if someone is making a decision contrary to what they would if they are sober and know way of telling how drunk that person is.

It just comes down to this for me, a person is responsible for ALL of their actions, that includes giving consent when drunk. If consent is not their responsibility, then who's is it? Now, their partner is responsible for their actions as well, they must have consent.

If you take the stance that one can not be held responsible for their actions when intoxicated then where do you draw the line of responsibility and why? If a person is drunk and rapes another person, are they responsible? If both of these are true, a person can not consent when intoxicated and a person is responsible for rape if intoxicated then there is the possibility for a scenario in which both parties were raped and raped their partners. Drunk sex between couples would be double rapes, neither side can consent because they are intoxicated and both parties engaged in sex with an intoxicated person who can not consent. It sounds crazy because the logic that allows such a scenario to exist is flawed.


Roland, I"m back.
I'd take this more from the place of decision making.
One can be drunk ass drunk, think making out with a fellow is a grand idea, even have sex with him, but what if at some point you decide enough is enough-you get sick, you pass out full out, you get scared. In each of those cases, if you the drunkass girl, says stop, or is passed out, the other person should stop.

If you are inebriated enough to not be trusted with a car due to how your motor skills are impaired, how would you safely get away from a man who is determined to fuck you (bigger than you etc).

That being said, I don't think anyone should use a regret as an accusation. I've had enough experiences to know when a night was just "not any good." I also know I've been lucky that I wasn't hurt by someone who wanted more than I was giving. I've had a couple of experiences that I just went through with though, because I wasn't sure if I'd be forced if I said no. Was that rape? I consented, but I did so out of a sense of pragmatism, not enthusiasm.

The person responsible for the rape is the rapist, in my opinion.

Chris Waterous  


The NCSF Consent Matters Campaign has *nothing* to do with rape, sex and alcohol. The NCSF campaign is about asserting that people can consent to BDSM activities and such consent should be acceptable by law. There are many places where one cannot legally consent to BDSM activities and they are considered grounds for assault charges even if the "victim" wanted to participate in being, say, flogged. Please find another source for an 'opposing view" on alcohol, sex and rape, because that one isn't it. Did you folks even read the page first? Try reading the Consent Counts Mission Statement: []

Brenda E. Kelly  

@Chris Waterous, thank you, I was just about to write the same thing. The NCSF is a vital organization and has very little, if anything, to do with the point of the article.


"In fact, in almost every aspect of life, being blacked-out, stumbling drunk does not relieve you of responsibility for the actions you take or the decisions you make; except in this ridiculous double standard of sexual consent. " I LOVE this line.

Bottom line is. You know how you are when you are drunk.

For me, when I am drunk? I seem to get very handsy, horny, and willing to jump any man near me. Strip him even. And not just the men. I know I do this. My friends know I do this. I will not drink enough to get me to that point UNLESS I am around people I know and trust. I know this might sound stupid, but I know I am not able to make the best decisions when I am drinking, I know I think I can fly, and I know I think I am better than every rule.

But I do not feel this is an issue about feminism. When I hear a "yes" from a man, or the man hears my "yes" it is not date rape. I can be angry and upset... but that is at me for being stupid enough to get drunk in the first place.

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