Yesterday we asked Elaine Byrnes about her tips on how to talk about consent. But what happens when alcohol or drugs are involved?

I know you have looked at how alcohol and drugs can affect our experiences of “hooking up”. For our underage readers who may be experimenting, is there any advice you can share on what you have found in your research?

My current research is with emerging adults – that is people aged between 18 and 29. One of the most powerful messages to come out of this initial research into hooking up or “one night stands” is that people consider others to be more comfortable with hooking up behaviours than they themselves are. And, this belief is stronger for girls than boys. So, when we asked how comfortable people were with the different behaviours during a hook-up – everything from passionate kissing to sexual intercourse, how comfortable they thought others were was greater than how comfortable they said they were themselves! That relates back to what I was saying earlier about comfort and trust. And, only doing things that you WANT to do, and that you know the other person wants to do with you. The reality is that everyone else ISN’T doing it, you just think they are.

And, for me that has implications for consent. Because, if you are doing something that you don’t really want to do, because you think you should, or everyone else is, then can you say you are really consenting to it? If you are doing something because you think you should or everyone else is, how can the other person know that you are doing this because you really want to do it with them? The simple answer is they can’t! So, it is up to each of us to be really clear (and honest) not just with the other person, but with ourselves.

When it comes to drugs and alcohol, something I am seeing in my own interview work with students is how much of a part alcohol plays in their decisions to hook up. Something I am hearing repeatedly is that people make decisions under the influence of alcohol that they wouldn’t do if they were sober. They decide to have sex with people they wouldn’t do if they were sober. And, the most important thing to remember in that, is while they may have thought it was a really good idea while drunk, the appraisal of the encounter takes place the next day when sober (or with a hangover). That puts a very different complexion on things.

Just like a person’s NEED for a spice bag after a few too many drinks might make them feel sick the next day, students I have interviewed have had the same experiences with their sexual behaviour. The awful, sinking feeling of regret when sober. That, something they wouldn’t have considered doing had they not been under the influence of drugs or alcohol is now a reality they need to face sober.

And finally Elaine, we always ask all our inspirational ladies this – What advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?

Excellent question! I suppose it is easy for me now to look back at how I may have done some things differently. When I think about my 15-year-old self, I wish I had known then how really crucial being comfortable with yourself and in yourself really is, especially when considering romantic and or sexual relationships.

If we could take the time at 15 to look after ourselves, to nurture ourselves, to find out what we really want (and don’t want) and make that a priority. I think getting to know ourselves not just from the perspective of emotions and feelings but getting to know our own bodies.

How do we like to be touched, for example? What makes us feels good? What doesn’t’ make us feel good? How do we like to be talked to? How do we want to be listened to?  To really think about what we are comfortable doing – for us. Not for someone else, but what we are comfortable doing. Because romantic and sexual relationships are bi-directional. It’s both ways – not just you giving and someone taking all the time. But give AND take. Giving of yourself because you really want to, and being with someone you trust is giving themselves because they really want to. That to me is – not so much the secret – but the reality I wish I had someone talk to me about when I was 15. Be gentle with yourself; be kind to yourself; trust yourself, because it is only then that you will be able to give gently and kindly of yourself with someone who feels the same about you.

Thank you so much Elaine, you are a rock star 🌟

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