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Drinking and Date Rape

She thought she'd just lost her virginity—until she found out someone had already taken it two nights earlier. Without alcohol, none of it would have happened.

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No means no...more drinks Photo via

I was a virgin until a month before my 21st birthday. I was on my second date with a guy named Craig, a 20-something blond surfer type who got my number after I made him a chai tea to go at the coffee shop in his neighborhood where I worked. I was lying on his bed and the Best of Willie Nelson was playing on his CD player. He had a tapestry hanging on the ceiling and there was a poster for the critically un-acclaimed jam band, The String Cheese Incident, on the wall. I felt him enter me and it hurt like hell, but I was flying high on the notion that I had finally conquered two fears—the fear of having sex and the fear that I never would. Afterwards, I was a little embarrassed by the spotting of blood on his sheets—should I offer to wash them?—but I still couldn’t contain my excitement.

“I can’t believe I’m not a virgin anymore,” I marveled, my head laying on his furry blonde chest. I had told him how inexperienced I was on our first date, two days before, when we were hooking up on this same bed after a light sushi dinner and a bunch of beers had put me just past the point of sauced. He, like the few other guys I had gotten intimate with, appeared impressed that I had waited for so long. I wondered if he felt special that I had chosen him as my first.

The room was spinning a bit and I had that slightly numb feeling that comes from being pretty drunk.

“Wait, what?” he said, pulling away slightly. I could see the outline of his face in the dim lighting. He looked confused.

“I just mean, I can’t believe I just had sex for the first time,” I said shyly. “It wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be.”

“Um, are you serious?” he asked incredulously. “We had sex two nights ago. Didn’t you notice?”

Something didn’t make sense. We had definitely gone far and gotten totally naked a few nights ago, but before things got too hot and heavy, I had told him my big secret and made sure he understood that even though I was really into him and thought I was close to being ready, I wasn’t quite there yet. He had respected that, right? I mean, I would have known if he hadn’t. Wouldn’t I?

“Seriously, Amelia, we had sex two nights ago,” Craig said.

“But, I told you I wasn’t ready,” I said.

“Well, yeah, I know,” Craig said, “But I couldn’t help myself. It wasn’t like you stopped me.” Was he seriously trying to assure me that he didn’t rape me? Did I just wake up in the middle of Lifetime movie?

“I...I guess I just didn’t notice,” I stuttered, desperately needing him to shut up for a second, to give me a moment of silence so I could figure out how and why I hadn’t understood that my virginity had been taken without my knowledge. I thought about the pitch black room, how I had been on my back and, after going down on me, Craig has knelt between my legs, fingering me with two digits, hovering over my body and passionately kissing my mouth. The room was spinning a bit and I had that slightly numb feeling that comes from being pretty drunk. His fingers felt big and strange, but at some point he must have swapped them for his penis and because I didn’t say no, because I didn’t know, he didn’t stop. I thought I knew, at the time, what was going on, but clearly I hadn’t. I felt stupid for not knowing what had happened, for not knowing what a man’s penis would feel like the first time it entered my inexperienced body.

“Well, whatever,” Craig said, clearly wanting to divert the subject from his wandering ghost of a dick. “We did it tonight too. Congrats, babe, you’re a woman now.” He kissed my forehead.

“Yeah…” We dated for another couple weeks, but I eventually dumped him. I told my friends it was because he was voting for George Bush for President and that he had misled me about his job. (He had claimed to be a marine biologist, but really he just worked in the fish department of a pet store.) But the truth was, I just couldn’t stand to look at Mr. Couldn’t Help Himself anymore. 

This was over 10 years ago. For some reason, I haven’t been able to remember his last name since shortly after we stopped seeing each other. It’s kind of like most things about him were purged from my mind save this one incident. It took me years to come to grips with my feelings on what happened. I was, by definition, date raped. I explicitly said I did not want to have sex with him. A short while later, he decided that he really wanted to have sex with me. Instead of explicitly checking with me again for verbal confirmation that it was now okay to stick his penis inside me, he just went for it. And I, in my drunken state, confused about both what was happening in that dark room and trusting that enthusiastically not giving consent only 30 minutes earlier would be taken seriously for the duration of our hookup, did not know that there was something to stop. That apparently, I needed to say no again

Having thought about it a lot over the years and discussed it in therapy, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think he did what he did out of malice, that he likely thought he had consent by the way my body was responding or the moans that were coming from my mouth. (The need to get enthusiastic consent before having sex with someone is something that needs to be taught to men and boys for this very reason. It is a crucial aspect of rape prevention education.) I think that if I had stopped him—again!—before he penetrated me and said, “No, I don’t want to, remember?” he wouldn’t have forced me. It seemed from his shocked response two days later that he hadn’t realized I didn’t know what was happening, that he had done something wrong.

For a long time, I didn’t feel comfortable labeling what happened to me as rape because I didn’t feel scarred.  The biggest impact it has had on me is of being one of many various situations that have made me mistrustful of men’s motives, of their ability to be thoughtful towards my feelings and desires. If I was raped, surely I would have been more damaged by the experience right? I’ve come to realize that my experience and response is my own and not one to judge. That I would never judge any woman who was a victim of sexual assault. At the time, I didn’t tell anyone what had happened, and I felt very alone in my confusion. I don’t want other women who have had the same thing happen to them to feel alone and without a supportive community to discuss the many confusing emotions that can arise.

As I’ve mentioned, one of the things that came up for me was what role my drunkenness played in what happened, in that it inhibited my ability to know exactly what was going on. This was one of a few incidents in my life that have made me realize that I need to be mindful of my limits when drinking. I have been known to exceed those limits. (I once wrote about being so drunk that I fell on a New York City street and could not get back up.) When looking back on that night, both the week after and today, I have wondered, If I hadn’t been drunk that night, would I have been more aware of what was happening? Because if I had been more aware, I would have told him no. Again. This is not at all to say that I blame myself even one iota for what happened. He was told no, explicitly, deliberately, and with further explanation about my virginity. He understood. And yet he chose to have sex with me without getting enthusiastic consent from me. This was especially essential, given my earlier LACK of consent. I cannot emphasize this further. I blame him for what happened, for choosing to believe that my not saying no again was enough to override the very firm no I had issued earlier. But yes, I do wonder if I would have been in a better place to offer that no if I had not been drunk. If I had been aware of and attentive to my limits with alcohol on our date. That I had taken better care of myself. Maybe it still would have happened. I guess I won’t ever know.

I know so many women to whom this has happened. Where sex occurred under the influence of alcohol. Sometimes sex that was simply regrettable—“Ugh, why did I do that?” Sex you wish you hadn’t consented to. And then there are those times when sex that wasn’t explicitly consented to, where the booze haze caused confusion, an inability to speak clearly, or led to memory loss the next day. Sex that leaves you conflicted about what happened and how you feel about it. Sex that was really rape. Can’t we find a way to talk about that—sex and rape that occurs in relation to binge drinking—in a way that does not blame the victim or immediately get labeled as victim-blaming? 

I hope this is a start.

This essay originally ran on The Frisky, where Amelia McDonnell-Parry is the Editor-in-Chief.  When she's not working, she enjoys having long conversations with her dog, complaining about online dating, and eating grilled cheese sandwiches.

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