A qualitative study of the relationship between alcohol consumption and risky sex in adolescents

Arch Sex Behav. 2005 Dec;34(6):649-61. doi: 10.1007/s10508-005-7917-6.


This study examined how alcohol consumption over a single session can affect the likelihood of risky sex in adolescents. Risky sexual behavior, as defined in this study, included sexual intercourse without the use of contraception or aNY sexual behavior that was subsequently regretted. In-depth interviews were conducted with 64 adolescents (aged 14-17 years). Data were analyzed following the principles of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. The impact of alcohol consumption upon risky sexual behavior was found to operate through a "continuum of influence." The 5 effects or explanations within this continuum, possibly determined through the level of inebriation, are summarized as follows: (1) alcohol affecting young people's assessment of a person's sexual attractiveness; (2) alcohol used as an "excuse" for socially unacceptable behavior; (3) increased confidence and lowering of inhibitions; (4) impaired judgment in accurately recognizing and controlling a potentially risky situation; and (5) complete loss of control, memory loss, and "black-out." These explanations were ordered with increasing significance. That is, impaired judgment (Explanation 4) and complete loss of control (Explanation 5) arguably represented the most significant effects of drinking alcohol upon risky sexual behavior. For those participants who reported both risky and non-risky sexual behavior, risky events were more likely to occur when alcohol consumption had increased and when the impaired judgment and complete loss of control explanations were applicable. The implications of understanding this complex relationship are outlined, and they will be of interest to academics, practitioners, and policy-makers in the alcohol and sex fields.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / epidemiology
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology*
  • Coitus
  • England
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality Assessment
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*