The effects of acute alcohol intoxication, partner risk level, and general intention to have unprotected sex on women's sexual decision making with a new partner

Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2011 Oct;19(5):378-88. doi: 10.1037/a0024792.


Women account for a quarter of all new HIV/AIDS cases, with approximately 65% having contracted the infection via heterosexual contact. Few experimental studies have examined interactions among background, partner, and situational characteristics in predicting women's sexual decisions. The Cognitive Mediation Model provides a useful theoretical framework for assessing likelihood of unprotected sex. Female social drinkers (n = 230) who had answered questions related to their general intention to have unprotected sex were randomly assigned to an experimental condition based on partner risk level (unknown, low, high) and beverage (control, placebo, low dose, high dose). Participants projected themselves into a story depicting a sexual situation with a man and answered questions about their cognitive appraisals, assertive condom request, and likelihood of unprotected sex. Alcohol effects on appraisal of sexual potential differed by partner risk condition. In the unknown and low risk conditions, placebo and alcohol participants appraised the situation as having greater sexual potential than controls whereas in the high risk condition, only those who consumed alcohol did so. Sexual potential appraisals in turn predicted impelling cognitions about having sex, which in turn predicted assertive condom request and unprotected sex intentions. General intention for unprotected sex independently predicted cognitive appraisals and outcomes. These findings highlight the need for prevention programs that focus on teaching women how to pay attention and consider sexual risk cues presented by potential partners, particularly when under the influence of alcohol.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / psychology
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / pathology
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Breath Tests
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / adverse effects
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Computers
  • Condoms
  • Decision Making / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ethanol / adverse effects
  • Ethanol / pharmacology
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Models, Psychological
  • Risk
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Sexual Partners / psychology
  • Software
  • Unsafe Sex / psychology*
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol