Sex on Campus Is Impossible

The complicated reality of consent

Justin Mezzell

Of course, there’s some chance it will be awesome. But there is also a chance, alarmingly high these days, that you, Ashley, will wake up full of regret and shame and will eventually get a hysterical e-mail from your mother, who will have seen your distressed post on Facebook and figured out what happened, and will then urge you to go to a counselor’s office, where you will sob and be met with a confusing mix of suspicion and comfort, and then you will somehow, suddenly, find yourself spending nights pouring your heart out to a victims’ support group until your entire identity on campus gets reduced to “survivor.” And you, Tyler, you will also, maybe, wake up feeling a teeny bit of regret, but you won’t think about it all that much until you get a call from a counselor that prompts you, over the weeks and months, to neurotically replay every move: Weren’t we both totally into it? Did she say yes? To the first part or both parts? Were we equally drunk or was she a little drunker, and does it matter, since girl-too-drunk means she couldn’t know what she was doing but boy-too-drunk doesn’t give me the same pass? So you spend the rest of the term wondering: Am I going to be expelled? Is she going to carry around a mattress? Will anyone ever go out with me again?

Five years later, maybe a reporter will call. He’ll be writing a book on the campus sexual-assault crisis of the 2010s, and he’ll have some questions. He’ll muse half-seriously about whether there are similarities with the 1980s’ repressed-memory-of-pedophilia craze. Did people get swept up in narratives of trauma and abuse? Were people’s rights ignored? Was it really as ubiquitous as it seemed? Were there horrible cases that were missed because colleges were too distracted by the ambiguous ones? Or was this crisis indeed every bit as severe as it appeared at the time? The words will be a balm of sorts; he might even mean them. “I just want to tell your story,” he’ll say. Will it be worth it? You decide.