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Lena Dunham’s Rape Allegations Appear To Pass The ‘Affirmative Consent’ Test

Girls creator Lena Dunham has a chapter in her new memoir that explores her still-uncertain feelings about a night of sex with a “mustachioed campus Republican” fueled by “muscle relaxants.”

The Huffington Post summarizes the pertinent sections, showing how Dunham’s views of what transpired only changed years later when she pitched the incident as a storyline for Girls.

Her sexual partner’s behavior, needless to say (read it yourself – it’s graphic), does not sound commendable in the least. It’s the kind of thing you think any woman would recoil against the minute he tried it.

But Dunham goes with it, and her responses appear to indicate she gave “affirmative consent,” at least after a bafflingly aggressive move by the young man. A few of her reactions:

“How that led to intercourse was a study in the way revulsion can quickly become desire when mixed with the right muscle relaxants.” …

“I’m not sure whether I can’t stop it or I don’t want to.” …

Dunham — in an attempt to convince herself that she’d given consent — talks dirty to him as he forces himself on her.

She then throws him out after she realizes he’s not wearing a condom. Consent ended.

Dunham then sends her memories through historical revisionism:

I feel like there are fifty ways it’s my fault. I fantasized. I took the big pill and the small pill, stuffed myself with substances to make being out in the world with people my own age a little bit easier. I was hungry to be seen. But I also know that at no moment did I consent to being handled that way. I never gave him permission to be rough… In my deepest self I know this, and the knowledge of it has kept me from sinking. [emphasis added]

In a strict sense, the young man’s unrequested first intrusion (which really did cross an obvious line) would probably be enough to find him guilty by a campus tribunal.

The problem is that Dunham actively consented from that unrequested move until the condom incident, giving every indication she wanted to continue, and the young man, by her own telling, left when she told him to.

Imagine yourself a campus administrator hearing these allegations, stuck between the likelihood of a Title IX investigation from the federal government and a due-process lawsuit from a young man who marshaled plenty of evidence that Dunham actively pursued him all night and affirmatively consented to every move until she made him leave. (This is basically the crux of the Occidental College lawsuit.)

If California’s affirmative-consent law, now also imposed on the State University of New York system and implemented individually by many colleges, has the effect of making college students talk more before flinging each other’s clothes off or retreating to a club bathroom, perhaps such policies can preempt disputes after the fact.

But if Dunham’s mixed feelings and years-long process of revisiting what happened are at all indicative of the ambiguity that college women feel after sex they later regret, no policy in the world is going to preempt continued misunderstandings – with real repercussions for both accuser and accused.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.