Sex and Drugs: The Full Story Ep 2 – Compromised Consent
Trigger warning: This episode will deal with sexual assault and will include interviews and stories from assault survivors. Please take caution if you’re listening with children.
Welcome back, everyone! We’re on part two of our Sex and Drugs series. In the first episode, we talked about how drugs are sometimes used by people attempting to enhance consensual sex with a partner. If you haven’t listened to it yet, be sure to check it out. In this episode, we are going to dive into the importance of consent and the interplay of drugs and alcohol in getting and giving consent.
As we get ready for St. Patrick’s Day and spring break season, it is vital to have a clear understanding of what consent actually is. In short, consent is the freely-given, preferably enthusiastic agreement between two conscious people to engage in a sexual act. A person who is sleeping, unconscious, or otherwise impaired cannot provide consent.1 It’s also very important to recognize that consent can be withdrawn at any time. If you are having sex with someone and they ask to stop, you must stop. This is basic human decency, people.
So what is consent? What happens when someone ignores another’s consent? What happens when intoxicating substances are used by attackers to intentionally remove the barrier of consent? And how can you make sure that any sex you’re having is mutually consensual? We have some guests on today’s show that have shared personal accounts of their experiences with drug-facilitated sexual assault. We will also be talking with a drug researcher about a lesser-known culprit, synthetic marijuana, and how its effects can leave someone vulnerable to assault. And we’ll leave you with some guidance on creating a safe space for your partner during sex.
What Is Sexual Assault?
The term “nonconsensual sex” is an outdated term. Think about it: if sex is not consensual, it is an act of assault, or violence.
Sexual assault is a broad term used to include any form of sexual contact with another person without their clear and voluntary consent. Sexual assault does not have to include penetration in order to be considered sexual assault. It can include unwanted touching and groping.
Unfortunately, sexual assault is disturbingly common.
Every 98 seconds, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.2 That translates to more than 570 people every single day that experience sexual violence.
Often, when we think about these kinds of crimes we think about stranger assault. But, sexual assault by an acquaintance, family member, or friend is more common than stranger assault. In fact, almost 76% of rapes are committed by someone that the victim knew.3 The rape may involve intimidation, threats, coercion, and/or substances to help facilitate memory loss. When drugs or alcohol are involved, it is called drug-facilitated sexual assault, or DFSA.
DFSA is a nonconsensual sexual act that occurs when the survivor or the perpetrator, or both, have voluntarily or involuntarily consumed substances. Well-known drugs that are used to facilitate sexual assault include Rohypnol (roofies), GHB, ketamine and, the most common one, alcohol.
In a survey of 1,053 current or recent college students who experienced sexual assault, 62% reported drinking alcohol prior to the incident; 10% reported taking drugs other than alcohol; and 9% believe they were slipped a drug without their consent.4
Here to share her story of being slipped a drug without her consent is a woman who we’ll call Jane to protect her identity:
A fun night out can quickly turn into a nightmare when someone can so easily slip something into your drink without your awareness. In her case, she woke up in a strange location unable to recall what happened. Others face more severe consequences.
Synthetic Marijuana: A Hidden Conspirator
It is very scary to think about what can happen to you when you are in an altered state of consciousness, especially when you had no say in your own level of intoxication. And while alcohol is a common culprit, the truth is any mind-altering substance can alter consent. Let’s talk about a rarely mentioned culprit, Spice, or K2.
Because K2 was originally marketed as a safer alternative to marijuana, many people assume that the drug is safe. But what researchers have found is that the risks of synthetic cannabinoids can be much more severe than many people originally thought.
We talked with Dr. Eef Theunissen from Maastricht University in the Netherlands about the fact that Spice was marketed as a safe marijuana alternative but, in fact, synthetic marijuana products are anything but.
Our guest Caitlin has experienced this incapacitation firsthand.
For victims, the effects of drug-facilitated sexual assault extend well beyond the assault itself, causing problems like post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, problems with intimacy, physical health issues, and suicidal thoughts.
Drug-facilitated sexual assault can cause long-lasting problems for survivors, and it is depressingly common. Substances were reportedly involved in 8.4% of college campus rapes and in most of these cases, the victim had been partying before they were assaulted.5
For those who want some quick advice on how you can best look out for yourself and others, here’s a quick list. Eat a big meal before you go out. Go out with a large group of friends that you trust. Use the buddy system: ask someone to stay with you to make sure you’re okay and do the same for them. Drink water. And, always watch your drink (both as it’s being made and while you still have it). Don’t put it down anywhere and then return to it and drink it. If it’s been out of your sight, you’re safer getting another one.
Do what you can to keep yourself safe, and never forget that it is not in any way your fault if something happens.
How to Make Sure You Have Consent
Consent is everything when it comes to sex. If you do not have the freely-given, preferably enthusiastic, consent of your partner, then you are not having sex, you are committing sexual assault. And someone who is blacked out from drugs or alcohol is NOT giving you an enthusiastic “yes!” You do not have permission to assault someone because they’re unable to say no.
If you are not concerned about the consent of your partner, if you think that you don’t need consent if your partner is intoxicated, or even if it just never really occurred to you to check in about it, you are doing it wrong. And if you can’t do a consent check-in because one or both of you is too impaired by drugs or alcohol, STOP.
Substances can certainly impact a person’s ability to give cognizant consent. There are also many not-so-obvious things that can have an impact. Amy Baldwin, the certified “sexpert” from our last episode, teaches about consent on a daily basis. She emphasizes issues that can complicate consent, like social pressure and pressure to comply with your partner’s desires. Many people experience this unspoken pressure, and it can result in a hesitant “yes” that really means, “I don’t want this, but I don’t feel comfortable saying that.” Certain situations can make people feel pressured to say yes despite feeling hesitant, especially if they are intoxicated.
We don’t only need to listen to ourselves; we need to listen to our partners. Don’t try to have sex with someone who is clearly blacked out or too drunk or high to say yes. If it seems like your partner isn’t sober enough to give consent, they aren’t.
If stopping to make sure your partner is ok means a fleeting moment of awkwardness, so be it. It’s better than a potential lifetime of repercussions for your partner. These kinds of clear consent check-ins are especially important when substances are involved. If you have any sliver of doubt, you are safer swallowing your pride and checking in. And again, if your partner seems hesitant or can’t give you clear answers, take that as a “no.”
Those of us who have faced the fallout of being sexually assaulted, like Jane and Caitlin, know what it’s like to have your consent completely disregarded, and it’s absolutely awful. As you head into this season of partying, remember the number one rule: don’t assault people. And the number two rule: look out for each other. Stay safe, everyone!
You can read more of Dr. Theunissen’s incredible research by visiting our transcript page links.
Caitlin recently published an open letter to her rapist in the Indy Week – a newspaper in North Carolina, where she works as a photojournalist. You can read more of her powerful story there.
Amy Baldwin co-hosts a radical podcast called Shameless Sex and runs a local sex-positive sex shop with her mother in Santa Cruz, CA called Pure Pleasure (www.purepleasureshop.com).
And finally, you can support survivors like Jane by speaking up if you see something happening, believing victims of sexual assault, and offering compassion and support as they work through their healing process.
For behind-the-scenes looks and sneak peeks of upcoming episodes, check out our Instagram, letstalkdrugspodcast. Reach out to us with #letstalkdrugs with your stories, your questions, your… anything! We just wanna hear from you! Until next time, I’m Lollie and this has been Let’s Talk Drugs.
If you or someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, we’re here to help. Our support specialists are available 24/7 to connect you with the best treatment options so that you can start healing today.
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- Cornell Law. (n.d.). Consent.
- Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. (n.d.). Scope of the Problem: Statistics.
- U.S. Department of Justice. (2012). Violent Victimization Committed by Strangers, 1993-2010. 1-19.
- Washington Post. (2015). Poll: One in 5 women say they have been sexually assaulted in college.
- National Institute of Justice. (2007). Drug-Facilitated Rape on Campus.
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