Alcohol and Sexual Decision-Making
“Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.”
Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act II
“Oh God, that men (sic) should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains.”
Shakespeare, Othello, Act II
College students often use alcohol as a sort of social lubricant – to loosen up and feel more comfortable with unfamiliar situations. Experimenting with new beverages or behaviors such as drinking games may be a way to gain entrance into a group or to send indirect messages about yourself and your desires. Both men and women tend to expect to feel more sexually aroused after drinking alcohol. Men are also likely to expect to feel more powerful and aggressive. However, research consistently shows both men and women to have depressed physiological responses to sexual stimuli after drinking alcohol.
The main attraction for using alcohol in sexual situations then, is probably its ability to decrease inhibitions. Choosing how to express your sexual attraction to another person can be a decision process full of anxiety. Some people use alcohol as a way to escape from thinking about their decisions, hoping that alcohol will be a catalyst which gives them “courage” to act on their motives. Important values and emotions may be ignored while hormones or aggressive desires take charge of behavior.
Developing sexual responsibility requires critical thinking. The consequences of your choices may have an impact on the rest of your life. Unwanted or unplanned sexual activity can lead to a disintegration of trust and deep emotional scars. It can also lead to sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.
Alcohol consumption appears to often be linked to acquaintance rape and other coercive sexual behavior. Communication between both members of a couple is severely compromised when one or both have been drinking. Being “buzzed” interferes with cognitive processing, thus making it difficult to send and receive clear cues. However, intoxication is never an excuse or justification for rape or any other form of coercion. Nor can an intoxicated victim be considered to have “asked for it.” Having sex with someone unable to give clear consent is also rape. Another way that drinking alcohol can increase your risk of sexual assault is by hindering your ability to use prompt verbal and physical resistance.
The best way to avoid misperceptions and risky situations is to stay sober and to stay away from people who aren’t. Before you become involved in a sexual situation, take time to think about what your limits and boundaries are. Explore how your faith can guide you in making decisions. Then be willing to openly discuss with your date what your sexual intentions are and find out where he/she stands. If you feel uncomfortable talking about sex, then your relationship is not ready for physical intimacy. Serious, sober conversations about the sexual limits of your relationship provide a basis for true growth in intimacy.
- Abbey, A. Acquaintance Rape and Alcohol Consumption on College Campuses: How are they Linked? J Am College Health. 1991; 39: 165-169.
- Neuman, IM, Crawford, JK, Nellis, MJ. The Role and Function of Drinking Games in a University Community. J. Am College Health. 1991; 39: 171-175.