I want to redirect the conversation around sexual assault and sexual harassment for a moment. I want to turn away from the “he did it” versus “she asked for it” or the “it happened” versus “she’s lying” binaries and ask some more pointed questions regarding the culture within which sex has become so muddied, confusing and violent.

This is of course our toxic mating culture where alcohol plays an almost indispensable role in getting people laid.

When we drink we make dumb decisions. Liquid courage is real. Drunk goggles are not a joke.

When I look back at some of the most publicized stories of rape and sexual assault, Brett Kavanaugh, Brock Turner, Aziz Ansari, etc., I see a culture that has so profoundly normalized substance abuse that it has stopped being a source of conversation. Frat parties. Booze cruises. Bars, clubs, raves, festivals, speakeasies. All centered around drinking, they are a part of this story, this historical moment, and context matters.

Like many women, I’ve been sexually assaulted. The first time was violent and serves here only as a point of differentiation. My second assault — which was more subtle, much like forms of unreported sexual assault that happen every day in relationships, in marriages, and especially when people are newly dating — these are the assaults where many women wonder, “Is it my fault?”

I knew this man. He was in my broader social network. We reconnected through a dating app and chatted for about a month before agreeing to get a drink together. The night we met, I came straight from work. I hadn’t eaten so the drinks hit me fast.

I remember waking up with in a fog. I couldn’t remember anything past dinner. I called him.

“Did we have sex?” “Yes.”

Later that day, I called the bar to see if there was surveillance footage of us. I asked the bartender how much I drank. She said I had at least five drinks. I remember two. Was I drugged? Or was I just drunk? Did I drink too much or did I just combine drinking with not eating? Would I have gone home with him if I was sober? Did he know I was blacked out?

When we drink we make dumb decisions. Liquid courage is real.

I felt so violated — by him and by own choices that I haven’t had a drink since.

A few years later, when I finally had the courage to share the story with my partner at the time, he said it was my fault, that it wasn’t sexual assault. But others pressured me to out my assaulter publicly, to get him kicked off of the board of a nonprofit I often worked with.

Caught between speaking out and staying silent, I sat for years in one of the many double binds that leave women repeatedly traumatized and unable to heal. I vacillated between blaming him and blaming myself, but somewhere in between, I found my power.

My power has been to never drink while dating. Being sober has changed my views of the entire modern dating ritual. I watch the way alcohol turns introverts into debonairs, men from lovable to lecherous. I’ve watched giggly girls let their guards down and their skirts up. All of this is because they are intoxicated. Period. When we are sober, we have all of our faculties at our disposal and we can keep ourselves safe.

One night, a few summers ago, I met up with an old friend from high school. We were hanging out at his home when he became visibly drunk and aggressive with me. I was so scared. I remember going into rape protection mode. Pacifying him while also slowly getting out the door.

By the time I got away my heart was racing but I did it. I protected myself. The next day, he called to apologize. “I was drunk,” he explained.

I hate rape culture and objectification of women. I hold men responsible for making the change, but they put themselves at risk too when they combine drinking with sex.

Under the influence, it’s easy to get confused about boundaries and consent.

“Did she want to?” “Was I too aggressive?” “What are nonverbal cues again?”

The only thing I know that will make things safer, invariably, for men and women, is if we take responsibility for the effect that alcohol has on our capacity to make smart decisions about sex.

Confront Our Drinking Culture

What if we treated sex like driving a car? What if we said that the choices we make while we are drunk, even in the best of spirits, are dangerous to ourselves? What if we focused on putting measures in place to protect us from our drunk selves?

What if this included creating a culture of accountability, where people agree that sex and drinking are a dangerous and should be avoided in combo? What if we had designated friends who stayed sober and made sure we weren’t prowled upon or innocently prowling on women or men who weren’t sober enough to have sex?

I honor the women who are speaking out against Judge Brett Kavanaugh. They are braver than I and they deserve our support and respect. But we can’t just channel this rage into stopping a nomination. We have to confront the culture of drinking that puts men and women at risk.

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