Too wasted for sex?

Drunk sex can be messy, both emotionally and legally. Read on to find out how to make sure you – or your partner – aren’t too out-of-it for sex.

A group of friends share a few pints on a pub bench.

Drink and drugs can limit our ability to make good decisions.

The legal definition of sexual consent states that a person must agree by choice to sexual activity and they must have the “freedom and capacity to make that choice”. Drink and drugs can stop us making good decisions because they limit our capacity to understand what’s happening – yet they’re present in many sexual situations.

How do I know if someone is too out-of-it to consent to sex?

Here’s where your partner’s drink or drug levels come into play. Drugs and alcohol can cause:

  • Blackouts
  • Confusion
  • Loss of bodily control
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness

If your partner ticks any of the boxes above, they’re definitely too wasted for sex. But just to make life more confusing, bear in mind that everyone reacts differently when they’re consuming substances. They can appear fine but still be too compromised to make good decisions. Even if they’re drunkenly trying to tear your clothes off, it might be something they’ll utterly regret in the morning.

Wait – they want to have sex with me, and I can’t just go for it?

If a person’s capacity to consent to sex is limited by alcohol or drugs, then the law is very clear that they can’t give consent. If you don’t get consent for each sexual act – from touching to penetration – you leave yourself open to being accused of rape or sexual assault.

Secondly, having sex with someone who is too wasted to know what they’re doing is just… wrong. As Katie Russell from Rape Crisis says: “It’s not worth it in terms of the impact it may have on them and on the rest of their lives and it’s certainly not worth it for you either if you find you’ve committed an offence.”

Are you telling me I can’t have sex when I’ve been drinking?

We’re saying you need to be aware of how it affects you and others. Good sex is about communication. If you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol it will make it much harder to understand how your partner is feeling or read their body language.

If you feel too drunk to understand someone’s signals, then it might be best to stop rather than risk getting into a sexual situation you’re not comfortable with. Tell them you think you might be too drunk and will have to wait till you sober up. This will give you a chance to decide if you still want to have sex.

Whose responsibility is it to get consent?

It’s usually the person who is initiating sex that has to make sure they have consent.

If I’m drunk or high, do I still have all the responsibility..?

The fact that you were drunk is not a defence for rape or sexual assault in the eyes of the law. If you are unsure a good test is to ask yourself whether you think your actions might hurt someone else emotionally or physically. Sex should be fun for everyone involved. Why take the risk if someone might get hurt?

How do I go about getting consent?

We know it’s awkward but having good communication and getting consent can become a normal part of sex. “It doesn’t have to be a passion killer,” says Katie. “It’s about saying consent is a part of intimacy and consent will make sex better as it makes everybody feel safer, more comfortable and more relaxed.”

  • Check in with your partner at every stage. For example, asking: “Do you want me to take your clothes off?”
  • Make sure you’re both involved in deciding what you want to do next.
  • If they look unsure again check in with them and ask if they’re ok or if they’re into it.
  • Check their body language. Do they want this as much as you do? Are they leaning in to kiss you or are they just lying there?

Remember, consent’s not a permission slip that allows you to do whatever you want. The other person can withdraw their consent whenever they like. If you’re mid-sex and they ask you to stop, stop.

You should also stop if you get:

  • Silence.
  • A yes after they were pressured.
  • Unenthusiastic agreement. A response of “urrgh I guess so” isn’t really what you’re looking for.

We’re mid-shag and they’ve suddenly gone all floppy

We’re afraid it might not be down to your fabulous technique. Due to the way drugs and alcohol affect us, someone can go very quickly from being alert and awake to unconscious or confused. Be aware of any changes in your partner’s behaviour and if they start to zone out or go limp, stop and tell them you don’t want to go any further as you think they might be too drunk and you can’t tell if it’s what they really want.

Make sure that they are fully awake and sober before you ask if they want to have sex again.


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Next Steps

  • Rape Crisis offers support and advice to victims of rape and sexual assault, no matter how long ago the attack was. 0808 802 99 99
  • SurvivorsUK offers advice and support to male victims of rape and sexual assault. Text on 020 3322 1860.
  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


consent law


Updated on 22-Sep-2016

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.