So, this is depressing, but not all that surprising if you’ve ever spent any time around young people who drink and/or been one yourself. According to studies published by social work professor Laina Bay-Cheng of SUNY Buffalo, many young women use alcohol as an “excuse” to act out sexually in ways they would not normally feel comfortable doing. According to her, this is just one of many reasons why it’s so hard to get college students to stop drinking themselves into oblivion.

Via USA Today:

Drinking allows young women to “act out being sexually assertive, carefree, liberated,” she says, and can be an excuse for their sexual behavior.

“If you have sex, you’re a slut, and if you don’t, you’re a prude — but drinking allows you to do both,” she says. “You can go out, get drunk, have sex and the next day say, ‘I’m still a good girl.'”

Pugh says she has observed that sentiment on campus. “‘I was drunk so I hooked up with that guy.’ ‘I was drunk so I missed my class this morning.’ ‘I was drunk so I got in a fight.’ If it’s something they’re not proud of, it gives them an excuse.”

I observed this phenomenon firsthand when I was in college, and even occasionally participated in it myself. “I was drunk” was a common excuse for hooking up with people one’s friends found questionable, even if one was not, in fact, very drunk at all at the time. On the one hand, it could be liberating to have a smokescreen behind which to experiment in ways we didn’t yet feel comfortable fully owning. On the other, this was kind of cowardly of us. Why not just admit that there were things we wanted to do that had to do with sex things, and own that choice?

It can also make it harder for young people to understand the line between consent and non-consent; if sexual experiences are commonly thought of as “things you don’t want to do but maybe decide to do under the influence,” it can make it harder for actual, non-consenting rape victims who were incapacitated by alcohol to convince their peers they didn’t simply do something they later regretted.

I think part of the solution here is to work towards a culture in which young women don’t feel like they need an excuse to experiment with their sexuality. Unlike some of the other things listed–fighting, missing class–sex is not an inherently bad thing for college students to do. We’re probably never going to eradicate underage drinking (personally, I think a more realistic option is to teach college students to drink responsibly), but we can certainly work on some of the mitigating factors.