How Do Alcohol and Relationship Type Affect Women's Risk Judgment of Partners with Differing Risk Histories?

Psychol Women Q. 2013 Jun 1;37(2):209-223. doi: 10.1177/0361684313481763.


Understanding how women judge male partners' sexual risk is important to developing risk reduction programs. Applying a cognitive mediation model of sexual decision making, our study investigated effects of alcohol consumption (control, low dose, high dose) and relationship type (disrupted vs. new) on women's risk judgments of a male sexual partner in three sexual risk conditions (low, unknown, high). After random assignment to an experimental condition, 328 participants projected themselves into a story depicting a sexual interaction. The story was paused to assess primary appraisals of sexual and relationship potential and secondary appraisals of pleasure, health, and relationship concerns, followed by sexual risk judgments. In all risk conditions, alcohol and disrupted relationship increased sexual potential whereas disrupted relationship increased relationship potential in the low- and high-risk conditions. In the unknown-risk condition, women in the no-alcohol, new relationship condition had the lowest primary sexual appraisals. In all conditions, sexual appraisals predicted all secondary appraisals, but primary relationship appraisals predicted only secondary relationship appraisals. Secondary health appraisals led to increased risk judgments whereas relationship appraisals predicted lower risk judgments. Possible intervention points include helping women to re-evaluate their safety beliefs about past partners, as well as to develop behavioral strategies for decreasing hazardous drinking.

Keywords: alcohol intoxication; interpersonal relationships; sexual risk taking; social cognition.