Laura Fink
Alcohol and Sex



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Links Between Alcohol and Sex

Multiple scientific studies have been conducted to determine the effects of alcohol consumption and sexual decision making processes. Alcohol consumption is often linked with “higher risk” sexual behaviors that include decreased condom use, little to no discussion of risks between partners, a lower degree of intimacy between partners, and having multiple and casual sex partners. The causal link between alcohol consumption and these behaviors is still unclear, but prominently occurring (Bourdeau et. al., 2007). Other research supports this relationship between alcohol consumption and risky sexual behaviors by showing that individuals that have consumed alcohol at any point in their lives are more likely to have had sex than people who have not consumed alcohol (Griffin et. al., 2010).
Some research suggests that people hold certain expectancies having to do with alcohol consumption and sexual activity. The disinhibition expectancy is that alcohol use will encourage one to behave in ways that would not occur if sober, and the risky behavior expectancy states that alcohol use facilitates risky sexual practices. Research has shown that adolescents with increased disinhibition and risky behavior expectancies will be more likely to use alcohol during their first sexual encounter with a partner, and also partake in risky sexual behaviors (Bourdeau et. al., 2007).

Prevalence in College Students
Multiple studies shows that alcohol use and sexual behavior, especially the higher risk behaviors that are mentioned above, are both very prevalent in college students. One study showed that students who have higher levels of alcohol consumption are more likely to indicate they are at a great risk for having unplanned and unprotected sex (Klein, 2007).
Despite the large amount of research in this area, past studies have been unable to conclusively prove or disprove that alcohol abuse causes increased incidence of risky sexual behavior. There is some research that aims to disprove the connection between alcohol use and risky sexual decision making in college students. This research suggests that despite the high instance of both behaviors (alcohol use and sex) that other research suggests, most analyses provide little to no support that alcohol use and risky sexual behaviors are causally linked. Concurrently, other research has suggested that since the prevalence of both alcohol use and risky sexual behavior in college students is already elevated, that occurrence of both at the same time is still possible without a causal link (Velez-Blasini, 2008).

Dangers of Alcohol Use and Sexual Behavior
Depending on how much is consumed, alcohol use can cause little to extreme cognitive impairment and affect decision making processes. 2-3% of female college students report experiencing forcible rape during enrollment. Moreover, data from the Core Alcohol and Drug Survey that was conducted in 2005 showed that 82% of college students who experienced uninvited sexual contact were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the event occurred. Also, 3.4% of college women who were raped said they were too intoxicated to be able to consent. This form of assault is called “incapacitated sexual assault” (Krebs, 2009).
Another type of sexual assault that can occur when the victim is under the influence of drugs or alcohol is called “drug facilitated sexual assault.” This type of assault occurs when a perpetrator uses date rape substances (such as Rohypnol, gamma hydroxybutyrate, Ketamine, MDMA, and Soma) to unknowingly drug a victim into a deeper state of intoxication (Krebs, 2009).

Alcohol, Sex, and Relation to Communication
Negotiation and decision making in terms of sexual behavior could potentially be compromised by the use of alcohol. A woman’s ability to successfully negotiate their male partner using a condom has been shown by previous research to be an important component of protected sex. However, under the influence of alcohol, the cognitive impairments that occur could potentially inhibit women of making safer decisions about sexual behavior, leading to one of the risky sexual behaviors mentioned above (Davis, 2010).
Other research discusses the Alcohol Myopia Theory, which states that when a person uses alcohol, their “cognitive abilities to process and discriminate between stimuli or cues to behavior begin to decrease. This cognitive impairment causes the person to focus on the most salient cues and ignore others, making them ‘myopic’ or ‘nearsighted’. When a person is faced with a decision of whether to perform a risky act, he/she processes two types of cues: impelling and inhibiting cues. Impelling cues are those that appeal to one’s most immediate desires or impulses and inhibiting cues are those that help monitor impulses and uphold social mores and norms (Griffin, 2010).” Research shows that people under the influence of alcohol are more likely to ignore inhibiting cues (Griffin, 2010). This link between alcohol, sex, and lack of communication can be seen through this appeal to serve immediate interests instead of considering long-term interests and consequences.

References
Bourdeau, B. et. al. (2007). Understanding the relationship between alcohol and sex: Latino and White college students and problematic sexual experiences while drinking. Journal of American College Health, 56(3), 299-306.
Davis, K. et. al. (2010). College women’s sexual decision making: cognitive mediation of alcohol expectancy effects. Journal of American College Health, 58(5), 481-489.
Griffin, J. et. al. (2010). Alcohol use and high-risk sexual behavior among collegiate women: a review of research on alcohol myopia theory. Journal of American College Health, 58(6), 523-531.
Klein, W. et. al. (2007). Unplanned sexual activity as a consequence of alcohol use: a prospective study of risk perceptions and alcohol use among college freshmen. Journal of American College Health, 56(3), 317-323.
Krebs, C. et. al. (2009). College women’s experiences with physically forced, alcohol- or other drug-enabled, and drug-facilitated sexual assault before and since entering college. Journal of American College Health, 57(6), 639-647.
Velez-Blasini, C. (2008). Evidence against alcohol as a proximal cause of sexual risk taking among college students. Journal of Sex Research, 45(2)//, 118-128.