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Study Examines Alcohol Use, Safer-Sex Communication, and Condom Use Among College Students

October 1, 1999

A study in the 1999 Journal of Sex Education and Therapy examines the relationship between alcohol consumption, safer-sex communication, and condom use among college students.

The study surveyed 320 undergraduate students (184 females and 136 males) who had engaged in a heterosexual sexual encounter during the month prior to completing the survey.

Researchers used a variety of questions to assess participants' general knowledge about alcohol, attitudes toward responsible drinking, and motivations/expectations of alcohol consumption. Participants were also asked about their last sexual encounter, which, for the purposes of the survey, was defined as penile-vaginal, oral, or anal intercourse.

The results include:


Attitudes and Knowledge about Alcohol

  • Both male and female respondents displayed positive attitudes toward responsible drinking, but poor knowledge about alcohol.

  • The enhancement of sociability was the greatest motivation to drink for both males and females.

  • Males were significantly more likely to drink to overcome negative feelings and to enhance sexual relations than were females.

Alcohol Consumption and Sexual Activity

  • 67% of males and 78% of females reported drinking no alcohol before or during their last sexual encounter, 16% of males and 15% of females reported drinking 1 to 4 drinks, and 17% of males and 7% of females reported drinking 5 or more drinks.

  • Knowledge about alcohol was not significantly related to the amount of alcohol consumed during the last sexual encounter.

Communication About Safer Sex

  • 56% of males and 55% of females reported discussing birth control with their partner before their last sexual encounter.

  • 46% of males and 58% of females reported discussing emotional commitment with their partner before their last sexual encounter.

  • 26% of males and 31% of females reported discussing HIV or other STDs with their partner before their last sexual encounter.

Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption and Safer-Sex Communication

  • Males who reported consuming more alcohol at their last sexual encounter were 1.5 times more likely not to have discussed HIV/STDs, birth control, or emotional commitment with their partner than men who reported little or no alcohol use.

  • There were no statistically significant relationships between the amount of alcohol females had consumed during their last sexual encounter and whether they had communicated with their partner about safer-sex issues.

Condom Use

  • 46% of males and 48% of females reported using a condom during their last sexual encounter.

  • Both males and females were 3 to 4 times more likely to use a condom when they reported discussing birth control, HIV or STDs, or emotional commitment with their partners.

  • No direct relationship was found between alcohol consumption by either respondent or his/her partner and the use of a condom during their last sexual encounter.

This study confirmed the findings of previous studies which have shown that knowledge alone does not have a significant impact on drinking and safer-sex practices. The authors state that many alcohol and sexuality programs are primarily knowledge-based and consequently have little impact upon participants' behavior.

In addition, the study found gender differences for predictors of drinking as well as the ways that drinking affects sexual communication and condom use. The authors suggest that programs need to be sensitive to gender differences as well as similarities.

They recommend that future programs be designed to help college students self-monitor behaviors, set limits, identify risky situations, communicate and negotiate, and reduce risks in both the areas of alcohol consumption and sexual behaviors.

For more information:

P. B. Koch, et al, "Mixing Sex and Alcohol in College: Female-Male HIV Risk Model," Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 1999, v. 24, pp 99-108.

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This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.
See Also
More Statistics on Young People and HIV/AIDS in the U.S.