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Alcohol may not cause risky sexual behavior

Courtesy of MCT

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Having too much to drink is no longer an excuse for that irresponsible one-night stand.

Studies done by researchers at the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, as well as a study by an Ohio State graduate, show that binge drinking and risky sexual behavior have no relation.

The study at the University of Buffalo, Randomized Controlled Trial of Brief Interventions to Reduce College Students’ Drinking and Risky Sex, surveyed 154 heavy-drinking college students, 91 women and 63 men, whose sexual behavior put them at risk for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. Students were subjected to counseling on the amount of alcohol they consumed and their risk for HIV.

Counseling for HIV-risk sexual behavior led to a decrease in unprotected sex. However, the counseling on alcohol consumption did not reduce unprotected sex.

Kurt Dermen, lead investigator of the study, said the results were surprising.

“It was somewhat surprising that reducing drinking did not lead to a reduction in risky sex,” Dermen said. “However, it is clear from other research that many factors affect students’ decisions about condom use and partner choice.”

Daniela Faloon, a June 2011 OSU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, completed research for her honors thesis on binge drinking, self-esteem and sexual activity among women. Her thesis, “The Relationships between Self-esteem, Binge Drinking and Sexual Risk Behaviors among Young Women” showed no correlation between binge drinking (defined as four or more drinks in one sitting) and risky sexual behavior.

However, higher levels of self-esteem were related to higher levels of binge drinking, according to Faloon’s findings.

“Women with higher self-esteem may be more confident and therefore, be more likely to go out and socialize,” Faloon said.

According to Faloon’s research, almost half of all sexually transmitted infections each year are among people ages 15 to 24.

“As a student at a large university I saw firsthand the prevalence of binge drinking and how it affects decision-making,” she said.

Both Faloon and Dermen acknowledged that there are other studies that show alcohol does play a role in sexual activity.

Amy Bonomi, a professor of human sexuality at OSU specializing in domestic violence and assault, cited a pilot study done by researchers at OSU showing that any alcohol use, including binge drinking (having five or more drinks on any given occasion), leads to more sexual partners.

“On college campuses, the trend is to hook up,” Bonomi said. “The traditional date is like no longer in existence.”

Alexandra Egger, a fourth-year in communication, said that alcohol can alter peoples decision making.

“Alcohol lowers your inhibition and reduces your ability to make judgments that coincide with your beliefs,” Egger said. “That factor, plus the college environment where there is constant peer pressure, can really lead to more promiscuous behavior.”

Bonomi explained that there are many more factors involved with risky sexual behavior than sexually transmitted diseases.

Women tend to feel bad after having a “random hook up,” she said. Typically men are not upset by these occurrences.

Bonomi attributed this situation to society’s “gender double standard” that men are expected to be more sexually forward than women.

Bonomi’s advice to students who want to avoid finding themselves in risky sexual situations: use the “buddy system” at parties and bars, abstain from drinking or simply drink less.

“Let’s put it this way: the hook up does not happen without alcohol,” Bonomi said.

Sarah Stemen contributed to this story.

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