I’m looking for insight from ya’ll.
In my job, I’m actually what’s known in the health education biz as “a generalist,” meaning I’m all things too all people, equal parts sex educator, alcohol educator, sleep, stress, mental health, physical activity educator… everything. It’s an important job that I take very seriously and do, if I may say so myself, extremely well. I certainly try hard, at any rate.
The sex stuff is my favorite part of course, and handily it intersects with just about all the other things, rather in the way that salt brings out the flavor of other foods, or the way alcohol gives the tongue access to flavors insoluble in water or fat. Understanding the role of sex in the other health issues is the sugar that makes the medicine palatable to students.
Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about alcohol – a serious health issue among college students, not least for its impact on sexual decision-making. Nationally, something like 16% of college women report having unprotected sex as a result of their own drinking.
Having chatted about that number with some students and other folks, one of the things I’m learning is how entrenched, indeed how FUNDAMENTAL is the role of alcohol in the hook up culture of the gay and lesbian community. You get drunk, you hook up. You may get drunk without hooking up, but you don’t hook up without getting drunk.
Now, wearing my alcohol educator hat, I think, “Well that’s fine, all I need is to motivate people not to drink to blackout, which is reasonably easy, since most people would rather not blackout if they can help it.”
But wearing my sex nerd hat, I think, “What? Why? What?!”
This one student I talked to (who may or may not read the blog – if you do, hi and thanks!) helped me understand. See, I had previously assumed that people were drinking a lot because they felt guilty about the sex, ashamed of their bodies, or otherwise somehow NEGATIVE about the pursuit of a sexual connection. The non-straight community is at increased risk for a wide variety of health issues, including mood and anxiety problems, self-harm and suicidality, tobacco use, dangerous drinking, etc etc, and the typical story is that people abuse substances in order to manage negative affect. They’re drinking, I thought, to turn down the volume on the bad feelings.
But no, it turns out it’s not that. It’s just… the culture. It’s just how you do things. It’s accepted as normal – long term relationships even start that way. Personally I can’t imagine having the FIRST sex I have with someone happen when we’re both shitfaced drunk, but apparently it’s more or less the norm in this particular culture.
And there’s certainly the question of whether it’s more the case in the gay community than in the straight community, where random hookups, at least among college students, are culturally normal.
So look, obviously I haven’t talked to every gay or lesbian person in America and obviously I haven’t read ALL the research on the subject, but this is a compelling empirical question as well as an important health issue:
IS it the case that in the LGBQ community, drunken hooking up a big trend?
If it is, WHY is it?
What are the benefits?
How is drunken hooking up in the gay community different from or the same as drunken hooking up in the straight community?
What are the costs or risks, both at the individual and cultural levels? Should it be changed?
If so, how?
I’m really asking, because I’m finding it difficult to get inside the experience of having sex with a new person while wasted; I’m sure it makes sense to many of the people who do it, I just can’t see it and I’m not even sure what’s blocking my view.
Tell me everything you can think of. Send your friends this blog post and ask them to comment. I need all the insight I can get.