Issue May 13, 2014

Advice: Savage Love

Hookup shook up

Q: I’m a 21-year-old straight male, and I’m mildly autistic. This means I have difficulty picking up on social cues. I’ve learned to manage my disability in most areas of my life, but I’ve recently become concerned about how it pertains to hooking up. My approach to hooking up is how I imagine most other people’s must be: find someone who I can have a flowing conversation with, attempt to flirt with them, and then awkwardly make a move. But a few weeks ago at a party, I was flirting with a girl when I suddenly realized she was wasted. I had suspected she was tipsy like myself, but I didn’t understand how far gone she was until she invited me outside and was unable to keep her balance while walking. What followed was a horrifyingly surreal exchange where I struggled to leave, she kept insisting she wasn’t drunk, and all the while she kept pressing against me. By the time I got away, she was angry, people were staring, and I had history’s most shameful erection. Prior to that night, I thought I could tell when someone was too drunk. I’d been certain about the agency of everyone I slept with. Now I have doubts. Severe intoxication renders a person incapable of giving consent, and taking advantage of someone impaired is the same as rape in my mind. Am I a rapist? Was it wrong for me to participate in hookup culture as I struggle to read social signals?
Moral Blue Screen Of Death

A: If your description of events is accurate, MBSOD, that shameful erection of yours — which was nowhere close to being history’s most shameful erection (that distinction belongs to the erections on the Catholic priest who raped the most kids) — was an innocent, unconscious, physiological response to some highly awkward and clearly unwelcome bodily contact. Just because your dick got hard doesn’t mean you were enjoying yourself. Again, if your recap is accurate: You were struggling to leave, and this drunk wouldn’t stop pressing her body against yours? You were the victim, not the perp.

As for other women you’ve hooked up with at or after parties …

The line between buzzed enough to go for it and too drunk to consent can be fuzzy and subjective. Some people argue that one drink renders a person incapable of consenting to sex. By that standard, nearly all of us are guilty of raping scores of people. But sensible people recognize that alcohol functions as a social lubricant and an effective way to overcome social or sexual inhibitions, and that it’s possible for two people (or more!) to have consensual sex after a drink or two or even three.

You say you have difficulty picking up on social cues, and you’re now worried you may have misread a previous hookup’s ability to consent. I’m sorry to say it’s possible you hooked up with a girl who was completely shitfaced but, unlike that drunk girl at the party, was not giving off too-shitfaced-to-consent cues that you could pick up on. Since you can’t go back in time and unfuck all the buzzed/tipsy/drunk girls with whom you’ve already hooked up, MBSOD, you can only resolve to be more cautious going forward.

If drunkenness is one of those social cues you have a hard time reading, you’re going to ask a friend for his or her read on the girl you met, or you’re going to stick to dance-floor make-out sessions at parties and reserve getting naked for sober/soberer second or third dates. And when you do decide to really go for it, you’re going to err on the side of making active, ongoing, explicit requests for consent, i.e., you’re not going to “make moves,” awkward or otherwise, you’re going ask questions (“I’d really like to kiss you — that OK?”) and keep asking questions (“Okay, I got the condoms out — you still wanna fuck?”).

 

Q: My best friend is in a relationship with a great guy who is a loving father to their kids. There are no issues in their relationship other than this: zero sex in 10-plus years. She is DESPERATE. She is in contact with a former lover who is not the LTR type. She wants to hook up with her ex. Is she required to disclose? If so, what do you recommend she say? Or does 10-plus years of sexlessness constitute a free pass?
Her Best Friend

A: Ten years without sex frees your friend from an obligation to disclose, HBF, but for your friend’s peace of mind — and for butt cover should the affair be discovered — she should sit her husband down and say something like this: “I love you and I want to stay married to you forever. We both know that sex has never been an important part of our connection or our marriage. If you should ever seize an opportunity to get it elsewhere, I trust you’ll be considerate and discreet and leave me in the dark. I promise to do the same.”

On the “Lovecast,” Dan chats with filmmaker David Thorpe about gay voices: savagelovecast.com.