College Students Use Alcohol As An 'Excuse' For Sex

New research shows why it's so hard to get college students to drink less: they really like getting drunk. And while some of the reasons are pretty standard, others are a bit depressing.

According to USA Today, a presentation on college drinking at this year's American Psychological Association meeting revealed a variety of unsurprising conclusions. For instance, getting drunk makes crazy shit happen — says Thomas Vander Ven, "because so much can go wrong, interesting, exciting, funny things happen when you have many people intoxicated together." Sounds about right. Also, drinking makes college students talk more and gives them a "boost of courage" — this would explain, for anyone who wasn't sure, why shy freshmen like to get drunk at parties. Vander Ven also notes that students sometimes bond over barfing: "the campus environment provides so much social support that even when students have bad experiences drinking, the help they get from friends afterward is seen as a positive."

None of this will be too shocking to anyone who's been to a keg party. More upsetting is Laina Bay-Cheng's finding that alcohol can serve as an excuse for young women's sexual behavior:

If you have sex, you're a slut, and if you don't, you're a prude — but drinking allows you to do both. You can go out, get drunk, have sex and the next day say, 'I'm still a good girl.'

Everybody knows drinking can lower inhibitions, and young people have been using it to do just that pretty much since fermentation was invented. Bay-Cheng is right that colleges need to "acknowledge and reckon with" what students see as the good sides of alcohol — and they may need to recognize that certain aspects of drinking are always going to seem pretty fun to kids enjoying their first years away from home. But it's really unfortunate that women's sexual decisions — whether they have sex or not — are so stigmatized that they feel they have to get drunk in order to disavow responsibility for them. And an environment where women have to get drunk to make sex acceptable is also one where their ability to consent is compromised.

The idea that girls "get drunk so they won't be sluts" is often spun in a sexist direction — many rape apology narratives hinge on the idea that women often make false accusations in order to avoid being seen as promiscuous. That's not what Bay-Cheng is saying. Instead, her research implies that we need to teach women and men that they don't need an "excuse" for having sex.

College Drinking Is Liberating, And A Good Excuse [USA Today]

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