You're Not Alone: Why 'That One Story' Is So Common In Hook-Up Culture
As women, we’re culturally molded to overshare.
My girlfriends know everything from my bra size and diet habits to what my “number" is. The most iconic women in pop culture — Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Miley Cyrus — are famous for exposing so much of themselves to the world. Still, we marvel every time Lena strips down, Miley smokes a joint on stage or Amy jokes about her sex life.
My friends, coworkers and I find it easy to talk about bad sex and Tinder dates gone horribly awry. And to my own surprise, when I started talking about the blurred line between consensual and nonconsensual sex, nearly every woman had a story to share.
So many of us could recall a time someone thought we meant “yes” when we remembered saying “no,” or when we tried to leave a party and found it extremely difficult to get our foot out the door.
What’s worse? So many of these experiences happen in college, a time for experimentation and self-exploration in an environment that’s meant to be safe and supervised.
The often-disputed statistic claiming one in five women has been a victim of completed or attempted sexual assault on college campuses has been recently reinforced by a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll. According to the poll, 20 percent of young women who attended college during the past four years say they were sexually assaulted.
These assaults can happen either by force or, more often, while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Attacks are also most likely to happen during freshman year, according to a study by the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The first-hand stories below are not meant to scare men and women in or out of college. Rather, they are meant to act as cautionary tales to ensure college students are aware of what can happen on nights out, be alerted to certain dangers and make sound decisions. And they are our ways of finding comfort in solidarity -- a reminder that you are never alone.
Names have been changed to protect the privacy of contributors.
Alcohol isn’t an automatic "yes."
I just started drinking my junior year of high school. I had to be 17. We thought at the time it was cool to hang out with guys who were 24, 25. They got us super drunk and I was invited into another room. It was dark, and the guy I liked was in there along with his friend. After he and I started kissing, his friend began touching me from behind. I was so drunk I kind of just let it happen, until I heard a noise and looked to the other side of the room. I could just barely make out other guys in the room dropping their pants. I screamed and ran to the door and began pounding on it to be let out. They told me to chill and opened it up as I ran over to my friends. For some f*cked up reason I stayed and was persuaded into having sex with the guy I liked later in a bedroom of the small party. I went home the next morning and cried in bed over how dirty I felt. From that night I learned casual sex doesn't make me happy. I thought because they spent money on getting us drunk and letting us hang out with them that I owned them something. I learned I don't owe anyone anything. - Louisa, 24
Consent cannot occur when a person does not know what he or she is consenting to. It also can't occur when the person in question won’t be able to remember what he or she said “yes” to the morning after, due to drug or alcohol consumption.
The stats tell us what we already know: According to the Journal of American College Health, men are more likely than women to assume a person who drinks alcohol on a date is a willing sex partner. Shockingly, the study also states 40 percent of men who thought that way also believed it is perfectly acceptable to force sex on an intoxicated woman.
There aren't clear definitions.
My sophomore year, I blacked out in the private bathroom of my dorm. I was about to unzip my pants while I made out with this kid I was hooking up with at the time. He, too, was very obviously blacked out. I honestly felt like he was too drunk to be having sex. I tried to leave but he blocked the door. It wasn't in an angry way, he was just laughing. He was extremely drunk, and we were friends who regularly hooked up. He playfully pulled my zipper back down. I eventually had no choice but to kick him in the balls and walk right out. The next morning, we all went to breakfast [with a group of friends from my floor] and he casually asked if he saw me out last night. I told him we made out, but I never told him anything more. I never knew what to make of that situation because there were just so many blurred lines. First of all, we had sex before, so it would make sense for him to drunkenly assume it was going to happen again. Second, I blacked out mid-hookup and if I would have been blacked out the whole time I probably would have just had sex with him. Finally, the reason I didn't want to have sex with him is because I would have felt like I was violating him. But then I ended up having to physically get him away to get out of that situation. - Layla, 26
We think we have a very clear idea of what rape looks like. The woman is drunk and incapable of making well-thought-out decisions. They’re in a bedroom or walk-in closet or bathroom at a party or a loud bar. The guy looks sketchy.
Rape is not always packaged in clear confines. For example, look no further than the Columbia University rape case. We still do not have a clear answer for what truly happened to Emma Sulkowicz during her sophomore year with Paul Nungesser. Eight months after her alleged attack, Nungesser was ultimately found "not responsible."
Rape, assault and sexual violence are often looped together because the line is so thin we have a hard time deciphering whether a questionable (or hazy) sexual encounter was rape or an uncomfortable situation.
We don't always assume something is wrong. Until it is.
It was New Year's Eve and my best friend had somehow gotten us into a friend-of-a-friend's loft party in the middle of SoHo. This was truly the most expensive party I had ever been to. The place was filled with models, older guys, finger food and champagne. Being two girls from upstate, it was really exciting that we didn't have to stay home and watch the ball drop with our parents. My friend and I decided we weren't going to get too f*cked up before the ball dropped so we took it slow. By the time the ball dropped we were ready to get a bit more tipsy. We found ourselves hanging out in this guy's bedroom, playing around in his incredible hand-built bathroom with glamour mirrors and everything see-through made of glass. Next thing you know, five of us were sitting on his bed passing around joints. In my mind, it was very harmless. As I passed one joint to the left I realized there was another coming from the right. I continued to hit them both. Twenty minutes later my head was spinning. I felt like I was on E and as a regular smoker I knew I couldn't have been that f*cked up from just the weed. It wasn't difficult to put two and two together and realize one of the joints was laced with something very unfamiliar. Before the point of no return, I grabbed my friend and pulled her into the bathroom to tell her we needed to leave. My friend's friend begged us to stay at the party and insisted that we were "too drunk" to go home. It seemed like an obvious con to get us to sleep over so he and these older guys could take advantage of us. I assured him we would be leaving. I could see the guilt on his face, and he ended up calling us a car. I remember being in the car and feeling like I was time traveling. That's how bad it was. It was a miracle we made it home. - Rhiannon, 25
No matter what gender you identify with, you're bombarded with the constant need to act cool. As women, there's pressure to be the one that parties hard, drinks her body weight in tequila and still manages to be totally put-together the next morning. No one wants to be the girl falling over herself after half a shot or the friend telling everyone to go home.
We also tend to put ourselves in situations we know in the back of our minds are dangerous, yet we ignore them in order to appear as though we can handle it. Don't get me wrong, most of the time we can handle ourselves. However, the odds aren't always balanced in our favor, especially if substances are involved. Those seemingly safe situations have the potential to result in being roofied, assaulted or hurt.
What appears as an innocent situation can be the cover for much worse.
I was 17, it was the summer before my freshman year and I had just begun experimenting with my sexuality. AKA, I was meeting with random guys I met on the Internet and was too scared to do anything once it was obvious that was where things were leading up to. One guy I met early on -- a college senior at a super impressive university -- began chatting me up on AdultFriendFinder, which I know I used illegally. We met up at a local park and just talked. He seemed friendly enough. Plus, he was only a few years older than me, good looking and in my opinion, normal. He invited me back to his apartment under the pretense of showing me all of his tattoos, which was just so decidedly badass at the time, my 17-year-old self couldn't say no. Naturally, we started kissing on his couch, but I was firm about wanting to end things at just that. He seemed unfazed and moved away from me on the couch. A few minutes and a couple of tattoos later, he offered me a drink. I asked for water, which took him a surprisingly long time to pour. At the time, I thought you can only drug up alcohol, not some basic H2O. I don't remember all that much after that, only that I laid down shortly after finishing my glass and woke up with the two of us pseudo-cuddling on his IKEA couch. I was still fully clothed (in a dress) though he was in just his boxers, fast-asleep. I didn't wait for him to wake up, I just slunk out of there as fast as I could. I didn't realize that what happened was questionable (at best) until I heard from a friend-of-a-friend a few years later that this guy was convicted of sexual battery in another state. - Rory, 23
We often assume that everyone around us has the best intentions.
While in some cases that can happen, the vast majority of these instances leave women to fend for themselves. Help doesn't always come when we need it.
As much as we'd like to assume a man would leave you alone once he realizes you're not in control or not interested, it doesn't always happen. Other times, we blame ourselves or take all the responsibility for a bad situation. Or maybe we're young, scared and unsure of where to draw the line.
That's precisely why so many stories are kept secret, and why they desperately need to be shared. Because it's not solely your choices. There's always another person involved. And we have the power to learn from each other, listen to ourselves and do something about it.
You didn't do this to yourself and you're not alone.