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Arts & Culture

Savage Love: Hookup Shook Up

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I’m a 21-year-old straight male, and I’m mildly autistic. This means that I have difficulty picking up on social cues. I’ve learned to manage my disability in most areas of my life, but I’ve recently become concerned about how it pertains to hooking up. My approach to hooking up is how I imagine most other people’s must be: find someone who I can have a flowing conversation with, attempt to flirt with them and then awkwardly make a move. But a few weeks ago at a party, I was flirting with a girl when I suddenly realized that she was wasted. I had suspected that she was tipsy like myself, but I didn’t understand how far gone she was until she invited me outside and was unable to keep her balance while walking. What followed was a horrifyingly surreal exchange where I struggled to leave, she kept insisting that she wasn’t drunk, and all the while she kept pressing against me. By the time I got away, she was angry, people were staring and I had history’s most shameful erection. Prior to that night, I thought I could tell when someone was too drunk. I’d been certain about the agency of everyone I slept with. Now I have doubts about myself. Severe intoxication renders a person incapable of giving consent, and taking advantage of someone that impaired is the same as rape in my mind. Am I a rapist? Was it wrong for me to participate in hookup culture as I struggle to read social signals?
—Moral Blue Screen Of Death

If your description of events is accurate, MBSOD, that shameful erection of yours—which was nowhere close to being history’s most shameful erection (that distinction belongs to the erections on the Catholic priest who raped the most kids)—was an innocent, unconscious, physiological response to some highly awkward and clearly unwelcome bodily contact. Just because your dick got hard doesn’t mean you were enjoying yourself. Again, if your recap is accurate: You were struggling to leave, and this drunk wouldn’t stop pressing her body against yours? You were the victim, not the perp.

As for other women you’ve hooked up with at or after parties…

The line between buzzed enough to go for it and too drunk to consent can be fuzzy and subjective. Some people argue that one drink renders a person incapable of consenting to sex. By that standard, nearly all of us—male and female and SOPATGS (Some other point along the gender spectrum)—are guilty of raping scores of people. (By that standard, millions of sexual encounters are simultaneous rapes, i.e., two tipsy/buzzed/drunk people having sex that neither party was capable of consenting to.) But sensible people recognize that alcohol functions as a social lubricant and an effective way to overcome social or sexual inhibitions, and that it’s possible for two people (or more!) to have consensual sex after a drink or two or even three.

You say you have difficulty picking up on social cues, and you’re now worried that you may have misread a previous hookup’s ability to consent. I’m sorry to say that it’s possible you hooked up with a girl who was completely shitfaced but, unlike that drunk girl at the party, was not giving off too-shitfaced-to-consent cues that you could pick up on. Since you can’t go back in time and unfuck all the buzzed/tipsy/drunk girls with whom you’ve already hooked up, MBSOD, you can only resolve to be more cautious going forward.

If drunkenness is one of those social cues that you have a hard time reading, MBSOD, you’re going to ask a friend for his or her read on the girl you met, or—better still—you’re going to stick to dance-floor make-out sessions at parties and reserve getting naked for sober/soberer second or third dates. And when you do decide to really go for it, you’re going to err on the side of making active, ongoing, explicit requests for consent, i.e., you’re not going to “make moves,” awkward or otherwise, you’re going ask questions (“I’d really like to kiss you—that OK?”) and keep asking questions (“OK, I got the condoms out—you still wanna fuck?”).

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