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Alcohol & Drug Counseling, Assessment and Prevention Services

Substance Use & Sexual Assault

Alcohol and drugs have a significant impact on behavior and decision-making for both men and women. There are times when substance use can compromise personal safety. Mixing alcohol and/or drugs and sex, especially with someone you don’t know very well, can increase the risk of sexual assault occurring.

Alcohol and drugs negatively impact an individual’s judgment, perceptions, thoughts, memory, and ability to communicate. This is true for men, for women, and for those who are transgendered. This is true if you are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, or questioning. As well, even consensual sex can be regrettable if our judgments, thoughts, and behaviors are impaired.

What impairments does substance abuse cause?

Substance use impairs…

Inhibitions
What does that look like?

  • Acting overly friendly
  • Giving signals we don’t mean or intend
  • Invading other’s personal space
  • Increased touching
  • Increased personal disclosure
  • Increased focus on obtaining pleasure

Judgment
What does that look like?

  • Not thinking about appropriateness of actions or words
  • Acting on impulse
  • Increasingly inappropriate actions – obnoxious or intrusive
  • Not thinking about consequences of various actions/words
  • Missing social cues/signals
  • Loss of awareness of how your actions impact others

Reactions
What does that look like?

  • Physical – slowed reactions
  • Ignoring cues of discomfort (physical or emotional)
  • Not noticing cues of a potential “situation”
  • Increasingly aggressive or seductive in actions
  • Communication:
    • Not listening
    • Not comprehending what the other person is saying
    • Not getting the message
    • Unable to say what you want or don’t want

Coordination
What does that look like? Inability to:

  • Act and ensure your own safety
  • Leave
  • Assert your rights or choices
  • Do what you need to in the situation

How does substance use impact sexual decision making?

Physical Effects
The effects of alcohol are predictable and progressive. As a person becomes more intoxicated, impairment worsens. What happens when a person’s inhibitions and judgment are impaired? Beginning with the first drink, alcohol can impair inhibitions and judgment. As blood alcohol increases, more physical impairment occurs.Good things – people are friendlier, funnier, and more talkative.
Not so good things – people take risks they wouldn’t normally. For example, some may find themselves in situations that are uncomfortable or unsafe. Some may misjudge their abilities to do something. For example, they may believe that they can run faster than they actually can, or drink more than they can actually handle.

Coercion
The use of alcohol for sexual purposes can often be a coercive tactic. Coercion is explained as a continuum of activities, ranging from subtle to overt:

  • encouraging someone to disregard personal boundaries
  • encouraging someone to drink alcohol
  • actively pressuring someone to drink
  • supplying someone with alcohol for the sole purpose of engaging in sex with that person

Although coercive tactics like pressuring someone to drink in order to have sex may not necessarily meet the legal definition of sexual assault, it is morally questionable. Coercion also undermines the community of safety, trust, and honor.

Expectancies

Expectancies are simply the things we expect to happen when we drink. Although alcohol often causes increased feelings of sexual arousal, these feelings can be intensified if people expect to feel this way. This is not to say that sexual assault is caused by intensified feelings of sexual arousal, but that a person’s expectancies of what could happen when drinking can lead to engaging in forceful, aggressive behavior regarding sexual arousal. Sexual assault is not a result of extreme arousal, but a result of forcefully imposing sex against a person’s will.

Gender stereotypes and social expectations can also support certain behaviors while condemning others. For example, what assumptions are made about women who frequently drink at parties or bars? What allowances are made for men when alcohol consumption gets out of hand?

Wanting intimacy, affection, and sexual contact is natural for all human beings. Depending on upbringing, personal values, and perceptions of the expectations of others, we may attribute shame, embarrassment, or other inhibiting feelings to sex. Needing alcohol in order to socialize or engage in sexual activity might indicate some level of dependency. Talking these feelings over with a counselor could be very helpful.

Communication
Are they interested or just intoxicated? Can these two look the same? The physical and mental effects of alcohol use can result in major communication problems between potential partners. Communication is difficult under the best circumstances – adding alcohol significantly ups the level of difficulty.

Is drunk sex good sex?

A satisfying sexual experience may be defined in different ways by different people. Ask yourself, are you or your partner having the best sexual experience when alcohol or drugs are involved?Alcohol and drugs impair one’s physical and sexual abilities & responses:

  • Decrease in Sensitivity
  • Erectile Dysfunction
  • Decreased Motor Skills
  • Decreased Cognitive Skills
  • Decreased Perceptual & Coordination Skills

What is consent?

Healthy sexual contact between two people is mutual and is consenting. Use these four guidelines to make sure you’ve given and received consent.Guideline #1: Both people are fully conscious.
When sex involves alcohol or drugs the issue of consent may be clouded. There is a good chance that at least one person is not fully aware of what is going on and may not be able to give clear consent. Are they interested or intoxicated? Know the difference!

Guideline #2: Both people are equally free to act.
Both parties are equally free to act without the presence of a power differential or environmental factors (i.e.: having to walk home alone, differences in size or weight, position of power/authority, coercion, or hazing).

Guideline #3: Both people have clearly communicated their intent.
A lack of “no” or non-resistance does not constitute consent (“But she/he didn’t say anthing…I didn’t know it was a problem!”).

Guideline #4: Both people are honest and sincere in their desires.
Saying things to “get sex” isn’t healthy, honest, or sincere. The other person is likely to feel taken advantage of in the end.

Reflect on what kind of experience you want to have. Know you sexual intentions and your limits. Communicate them clearly!

How can sexual assault be prevented?

Students are the most powerful influence for change on campus. You can continue to maintain healthy behaviors and make positive choices and encourage your peers to do the same. You can be active rejecting unhealthy behaviors. The less tolerant we are of violent images, jokes, attitudes, and behaviors, the more likely we are to keep our community functioning as a healthy and violence-free environment.What can you do?

  • Educate yourself about consent and sexual decision making.
  • Make a commitment to treat yourself and others with respect.
  • Be a positive role model. Mentor a young person, volunteer, become a tutor, help out at a crisis center or shelter.
  • Start or participate in a conversation about MEN’S and WOMEN’S health. Talk about how to create safer, healthier communities for everyone.
  • Question gender stereotypes regarding emotions, sex, relationships & communication.
  • Go to parties or clubs with friends you trust and agree to look out for one another.
  • Drink moderately or not at all.
  • Communicate clearly and directly with your partner. Silence or no answer is not consent.
  • Never pressure anyone for sex.
  • Speak up or act if you see a situation that is risky for men or women. Checking in with a friend can help reduce everyone’s risk.
  • Leave immediately if a situation doesn’t feel right. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Listen to someone who tells you about an assault. Ask how you can help. Use the resources in this website for referral.

Additional resources

More information on sexual assault is available from these sources: