Condom Use Among College Women Unchanged by Alcohol

By Shawn Dwyer 12/09/13

Despite media depictions of women hopelessly succumbing to risky sexual behavior while under the influence, a new study shows evidence that women can still make good decisions while drunk.

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Not so fast, buddy. Photo via Shutterstock

A new study conducted by researchers at Brown University and Syracuse University has splashed some cold water on the commonly held notion that alcohol greatly reduces common sense among college students, particularly women, when engaging in sexual activity.

The year-long research project stated its findings based on 297 responses from women who reported 1,856 instances of intercourse during their first year of college at an unnamed university in the Northeast. Of those reported sexual encounters, only 20 percent involved drinking any alcohol and 13 percent involved heavy alcohol use – or what people refer to as binge drinking. Flipping that around, the study found that a whopping 80 percent of reported sexual activity involved no alcohol whatsoever.

Meanwhile, study participants reported that condoms were used 61 percent of the time during intercourse; while that number dipped when sex involved regular romantic partners (58 percent), condom use actually increased (72 percent) when involving casual partners. What’s more, when alcohol was introduced, overall condom use actually increased to 70 percent. “Among college women, alcohol use and condom use tend to co-occur, because both are more likely in events involving casual partners,” the study said. “Even in situations involving heavy drinking (four or more drinks), during which we might expect disinhibition to lead to decreases in safe-sex behavior, we found no evidence of decreased condom use across this sample of women.”

The study seemed to belie the idea that alcohol seriously impairs judgment and perhaps points to the validity of another explanation for the behavior of some college kids. “There is a second theory about alcohol and sex that the findings of this study do support,” said writer and sexual health expert Martha Kempner. “Expectancy theory says that individuals’ behavior after drinking is driven by their beliefs about alcohol’s effects on behavior. Essentially, how you behave while drunk is a self-fulfilling prophecy—if you think you are going to take more sexual risks because of alcohol, you probably will.”

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.