When it comes to drinking alcohol and having sex, at what point is a person unable to give clear, knowing, and voluntary consent? The short answer: when someone becomes incapacitated.

Incapacitation, as defined by WSU, means someone can’t fully comprehend the details of the situation and has lost the ability to make rational, informed decisions.

It’s important to understand that having sex without consent is sexual assault. And alcohol can diminish someone’s ability to give and get consent. So let’s talk about consent when alcohol is involved.

Sometimes, it’s obvious when someone is incapacitated, like when they are asleep or passed out. Other times, it may appear less clear. Someone’s age, sex, body composition, experience with alcohol and food intake play huge roles in how they are affected by drinking.

If you feel like you’re getting mixed messages, or you’re not 100 percent confident you have consent, stop and reassess. It’s helpful to ask yourself these questions:

  • Can they clearly communicate with their words?
  • Can you carry on a coherent conversation with each other?
  • Can they walk in a straight line, or are they wobbly?
  • Would you feel comfortable giving them the keys to your car?

If you answer “no” or “maybe” to these questions, then it’s best to assume they can’t give clear, knowing, and voluntary consent. Be sure to also regularly check in with the other person. Keep in mind that people can appear coherent even when they’re not. It only takes a moment to check in and ensure the other person is able to consent.

If you’re initiating sexual activity – drunk or not – it’s always your responsibility to get consent. Even if you’re both drunk, it doesn’t mean both of you are incapacitated. Just like we’re not okay with someone hurting others by drinking and driving, being drunk is not a valid excuse for sexually assaulting someone.

Interested in learning more about consent? Request a workshop for your group, chapter, residence hall, or department.