Sex, Drugs and Alcohol in “Looking for Alaska”
October 18, 2019
In Hulu’s Looking for Alaska (based on the John Green novel of the same name), there is—as in most teen shows and movies—an emphasis on getting laid. In the first episode, Alaska tells Pudge, “I’ll get you laid,” as if it’s the be-and-end all. Later on in the series, when Miles gets intimate with Lara, his best friend proudly announces, “Our boy has a become a man!”
But that’s not necessarily what real life is like. Teens aren’t the sex-obsessed hormone machines that media has us believe, and having sex doesn’t determine your character, your popularity or your worth. Looking for Alaska did, however, accurately reflect another facet of teen life: substance use.
Impaired Consent and Communication
When Marya and her boyfriend Paul have sex, they’re drinking. When Miles and Alaska have sex, they’re drinking. Drugs and alcohol may help some people feel more relaxed during sex, but drinking and drugs can also be a complicating factor in terms of having consensual, safer sex.
Being intoxicated can not only affect a person’s judgment, but also their ability to communicate and capacity to read and interpret a partner’s communication. When someone is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, they are so intoxicated they cannot walk, may be incoherent or pass out for example. A person loses the ability to give consent altogether if they are intoxicated or incapacitated.
If someone does not or cannot consent to sexual contact and you have sex with them, then that is sexual assault. This can apply to all sorts of sexual contact, regardless of whether it’s groping, penetrative sex, a one-night stand or a long-term relationship. And it doesn’t matter what the gender of the initiator is.
It’s also important to keep in mind that different people react to different amounts of drugs or alcohol depending on a myriad of factors including height, weight and tolerance. Therefore, it may be hard to gauge exactly how much alcohol is “too much” to give consent. It’s also more difficult to talk about what feels pleasurable and have frank discussions about safer sex when you’re drunk or high.
Safe and Sober
In Looking for Alaska, Marya and her boyfriend talk about having sex all summer prior to their decision to have sex. Meanwhile, Alaska and Miles made a much more spontaneous decision. That’s why it’s important to have honest, open and proactive conversations about limits, comfort levels and boundaries while sober. This ensures all parties know what they’re getting into and how you plan to practice safer sex and/or prevent pregnancy. Everyone can then feel safe and empowered in their decision. It also means realizing when a partner is too intoxicated to consent and respecting those boundaries.