No, Joe, drunk sex is not rape

The former US vice president, Joe Biden, has made the outrageous claim that having sex with a drunk woman is equivalent to rape. In a recent interview with Teen Vogue, he said that if a woman is inebriated she cannot properly consent to sex. His exact words were: ‘If a young woman is drunk, SHE CANNOT CONSENT. She cannot consent, and it’s rape. It’s rape. It’s rape. It’s rape.’

I am willing to bet that a sizeable number of people reading this article have had fully consensual, drunk sex before. Sometimes, people find that a few drinks can be a good thing – it helps them feel more confident about being naked and intimate with someone for the first time. It’s also true that drunk sex can be fun.

Of course, there are instances where someone is simply far too drunk to consent to anything, let alone sex. But most young adults have seen somebody in that state, and can tell the difference between being a bit tipsy and being paralytic.

But Biden is not making a distinction between being tipsy and passed-out pissed – his pearl-clutching is actually problematising sexual relations. Though he may be attempting to be right-on, this paranoid attitude to sex is in no way progressive or enlightened. In fact, it’s a throwback to a time where women were thought to be fragile and in need of protection. The idea that women are rendered helpless after a drink or two is deeply sexist.

US cultural critic and feminist Camille Paglia has often spoken of how the young women of her generation campaigned in the 1960s against university administrators imposing curfews on female students living in residence halls. Back then, students challenged the perception that women were uniquely vulnerable and not able to handle themselves on late-night dates with men (probably involving alcohol).

Those women won that battle, and society has, for the most part, moved on from the notion that women should be shielded from the supposed predatory instincts of men. Furthermore, men and women are now more sexually free than at any other point in history. In many societies, we have full control over the reproductive process – it is feasible for a woman to have drunk sex, without protection, and still prevent an STI or pregnancy with basic medical help. Past generations were unable to enjoy sex fully without worrying about these very real consequences.

The sexual freedom that we enjoy today should be celebrated, not feared. Biden seems to have forgotten that the legal age for drinking is 21 in the US (18 in the UK) so he’s not talking about young girls, but adult women. Everyday, all over the world, adults get tipsy, have sex and enjoy it. Prudes like Biden need to get over that.

Candice Holdsworth is the founder and editor of Imagine Athena.

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