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Alcohol and sexual abuse as factors in risky sexual behavior

Investigators from the University of Washington and The Kinsey Institute found that alcohol and childhood sexual abuse were contributing factors to risky sexual behavior in women. Women in the study who had experienced childhood sexual abuse were significantly less likely to use condoms than women who had not been sexually abused, or experienced abuse in adulthood only.
Intoxicated women reported significantly greater sexual arousal, positive mood, and likelihood of risky sex relative to sober women. The study has been published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior »

Schacht, R.L., George, W. H., Davis, K. C., Heiman, J. R., Norris, J., Stoner, S. A., & Kajumulo, K. F. (2010). Sexual abuse history, alcohol intoxication, and women’s sexual risk behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 898-906. DOI: 10.1007/s10508-009-9544-0.

Alcohol, sexual arousal and sexual risk taking

Despite the common perception that individuals are more likely to engage in risky sex while intoxicated, the evidence is mixed. Some individuals actually appear to become less risk-prone under the influence of alcohol. Researchers have suggested that these mixed findings may come from the fact that alcohol merely increases whatever a person's initial tendency was. For example, if a woman is extremely concerned about getting pregnant whenever she has intercourse, this is likely to affect her decisions about sex even more under the influence of alcohol because alcohol limits the extent to which she can also recall the reasons for engaging in intercourse. This is called the "alcohol myopia hypothesis."

Twenty-two women and 22 men came in for 2 sessions to our laboratory, where they consumed alcohol (cranberry juice and vodka to blood alcohol level .08) or juice only (cranberry) while viewing sexual films. They completed a computer task to assess their intent to engage in risky sexual encounters.


We failed to find support for the alcohol myopia hypothesis. Interestingly, we found that being sexually aroused was a primary factor affecting sexual decision-making (being sexually aroused increased the amount of sexual risk you were willing to take). Although many researchers have written about this possibility before, this is some of the first laboratory evidence supporting it that we are aware of. We are currently exploring the extent to which expectations about alcohol's effect on sexual response may have affected sexual risk taking intent.


Nicole Merritt, BA; Erick Janssen, PhD; Jamie Cohen, BA; and Peter Finn, PhD

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