The good news is, contrary to what you may have been taught, sex is good, healthy, and enjoyable. I want you and all your idiot college friends to have as much of it as you want, but you need to be safe and responsible while doing so. The most important component of that safety and responsibility can be boiled down to a single word: consent.
Sex without the consent of your partner is not sex—it's rape. And because the world we live in is ludicrous, it falls to me to inform you, male-identified student, that 100 percent of the responsibility for rape falls on the person who does the raping. You should not, you may not, you must not ever rape anyone.
Obvious, right? Apparently not.
As Heidi Groover cited in The Stranger's Back to School Issue last year, one in five women are raped in college. What's more, 80 percent of those women will know the person who raped them. That means, as you've likely heard at some school assembly already, the vast majority of rape isn't men jumping out of alleyways and forcing sex on people, but rather regular dudes making big mistakes in dorms, frat houses, cars, and apartments.
We're talking about tens of millions of sexual assault cases here. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that "36 percent (approximately 42.4 million women) have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime." About 70 percent of those women reported experiencing their assault before the age of 25. Almost half before they were 18.
Only a small percentage of these sexual assaults get reported to police. An even smaller percentage of reported rapists actually get charged with anything (~20 percent). Only a minuscule number of people charged with rape go to jail (~7 percent). And the ones who do go to jail often don't end up serving that much time.
And despite what the secretary of education would have you believe, false accusations of rape are incredibly rare—between 2 and 10 percent, according to a recent report on Quartz.
This means the responsibility lies with men. We have to make rape and the culture that encourages it anathema within our social circles. And that begins with you. Take it seriously.
Here are some pretty easy, straightforward guidelines you can follow so that you can enjoy making out and having sex with people without finding out later that you raped them.
How to read signals
There are many obvious signals hetero people broadcast to communicate sexual attraction or desire, including repeated and sustained eye contact, laughter, touching more than once or for a little longer than normal, talking explicitly about sex, and sending naked or kinda naked photos.
If you receive a lot of these signals from one woman over the course of the evening, ask her on a date! Or ask if she wants to make out! Something to keep in mind: Signals are signs that a person might be physically attracted to you, not intimacy points you attain on your way to guaranteed sex. If you get rejected when you ask for a date, that's fine! Exit the field and laugh about it later! Nobody ever owes you sex.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If the person sending you these signals is falling down drunk, or even just drunk, or super high, do not consider that person a potential sexual partner. Consider them a person who needs to be looked after, returned to friends, or put in a Lyft and escorted home. Being wasted might lower her inhibitions, but it also impairs her ability to give consent.
How to take the leap
For a bunch of reasons we don't have time to get into, it's often true that hetero women expect men to make the first move. Sorry, but it's true. For some, this expectation leads to a paradox: How are you supposed to jump from signals to kissing or touching if touching without permission is considered groping or rapey?
There is no single way to solve this riddle. The one thing you can do is to make sure that consent is at the front of your mind at all times.
As Sarah Schulman wrote in Conflict Is Not Abuse, nobody can accuse you of having desire. If you want to kiss someone, state your desire plainly. "I want to kiss you"—or a variation on that statement in the form of a question—is FINE. Or, if you're pretty sure she's silently telling you she wouldn't mind if you shut up already and leaned in, go gently. If she says "yes" or kisses you back, then great! If she tries to deflect or removes your hands from her, apologize for misinterpreting her signals and change the subject, or leave awkwardly!
Nobody does the last part gracefully, so don't worry! Just take her word for it.
How to handle rejection
So you're making out and you want to have sex. The idea here isn't just to plow ahead and wait for a "no." Again, you want to state your desire plainly. Saying something like "I want to fuck you" is really all you need. (You might also consider some slightly more artful language—just don't say "make love.") In response, you're looking for an enthusiastic "yes" or a slightly exasperated "fuck me" or that thing where they just grab your cock and put it in.
Consider any other kind of response or hesitation a "NO."
If you're tempted to make a counterproposal like "Well how's about a blow job?" then make it abundantly clear that you invite rejection. Counteroffers can be intimidating and coercive, and if you intimidate someone into giving you a consolatory blow job, then that's not good sex. That's rape.
You might think that asking will kill the vibe or otherwise spoil your chances for sex. But when you and your partner are new to sex, it's essential to be clear about your desires and intentions. And the risk of not having sex in that moment is MUCH smaller than the risk of discovering later that she didn't actually want to.
What if the woman isn't saying yes but isn't saying no and yet appears to be aroused because she's wet? Should you take her apparent arousal as a sign that her body "wants" to have sex even though she doesn't seem to have made up her mind? NO, YOU SHOULD NOT. A wet vagina is not consent. (It may in fact only be a sign that her body is trying to protect itself from damage.)
If during sex you sense that she's uncomfortable or not feeling it, ask if she's okay. If she says "NO," or hesitates, or doesn't reply, or starts crying, then pull out and ask her what's up.
Rejection at this stage will feel bad, emotionally and physically. But blue balls hurt less than catching a rape case. In these situations, you need to remind yourself how much Tumblr porn there is and then go straight home to jack off to it.
ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: Follow these guidelines even if you're actually dating this person.
There's a lot more to say, but college will afford you ample opportunity to talk (and if you're smart, to listen) about this subject. You'll see dudes acting inappropriately toward and expressing horrible ideas about women. You can and should confront them when they do, especially if they are your friends. You may be lumped into generalizations about gender inequality, male privilege, and rape culture that feel unfair because you consider yourself a good guy. You may even meet sex partners who think questions about consent are embarrassing and find modern men to be a bunch of mollycoddled sissies.
In all of those cases, however, the responsibility for not raping people will still begin and end with you.