The Relationship Between Alcohol and Sexual Assault

Part I of a two part series:

Have you ever heard others or even yourself saying things like "Everyone drinks to have a good time," "It's easier to meet people when I'm drinking," or that "Pat sure looks better after I've had two beers"? Alcohol lowers people's inhibitions, impairs good decision making, hinders the ability to communicate clearly, and can increase vulnerability by making resistance to unwanted advances or assault difficult or ineffective. All of these facts about alcohol make the relationship between drinking and sex important to understand to help us avoid ending up in situations that we could regret in the morning or that could end up being sexual assault. Although there are many other issues involved with sex and alcohol, the focus of this series is sexual assault. Keep your eyes and ears open for the next issue of the Balance Beam for more insight into this topic.


Statistics from a Jan 1991 article in the Journal of American College Health say that 26% of men who acknowledge committing sexual assault report being intoxicated at the time and 29% reported being "mildly buzzed" for a total of 55% under the influence. 21% of women who experienced sexual aggression on a date were intoxicated and 32% were "mildly buzzed" at the time for a total of 53% under the influence. Other statistics place the percentages of men being intoxicated during rape at 75% and women at 55% (from "Against Her Will," a Lifetime cable production, 1989). Therefore, there clearly is a strong correlation between alcohol and sexual assault.

Mechanisms at Work:

There are believed to be two mechanisms at work in the consumption of alcohol: the drug, or pharmacological, mechanism and the expectancy, or psychological, mechanism. Alcohol acts on the body, including brain function, as a depressant - dulling perception and motor coordination. The expectancy effect works on the basis of how people `expect' alcohol to affect their behavior and other people's behavior.

Alcohol's `Disinhibiting' Effect:

Alcohol is associated with sexual risk-taking because of alcohol's `disinhibiting' effects on the drinker. Researchers believe that `disinhibition' is the result of beliefs and cultural attitudes more than any physiological effects of alcohol. In our culture, people use alcohol for the purpose of relaxation and to enjoy the moment. When people drink in environments conducive to meeting people and socializing, like bars, clubs, or dorm or frat parties, the mixture of alcohol and people's expectations about how it will effect their sex lives may actually lead to an increase in sexual assaults and risky sex. For example, a survey of undergraduates found that approximately half of both male and female undergraduates reported that they have used alcohol to enhance or intensify sexual experience and that alcohol has been deliberately used in a dating situation to make one of the partners more sexually willing or responsive.

Final Thoughts:

Try to keep some of these ideas in mind when you decide to drink. Our society is one in which we have stereotypes about both men and women who drink and about sex under the influence. Many men may view a drinking woman as "fair game" for forced sex and may encourage her drinking in order to facilitate sexual advances. Further, many men and women look down upon women who have been sexually assaulted under the influence and blame them for this. Knowing how alcohol effects the body, both pharmacologically and psychologically, we should be careful when assigning "blame" for being sexually assaulted.

The best ways to avoid having to deal with the problems of sex under the influence are to drink responsibly or not at all, be careful, look out for one another, and help friends in situations involving drinking and the possibility of risky sex.

References and Help:

The Health Library, 2nd Floor of Cowell (for lots of related information)


The Party Pro's (a group of students at Cowell who help plan fun and safe parties), 723-2439

Sexual Assault Resource Center (at Cowell): 725-4211

For counseling call:

Counseling and Psychological Services (at Cowell): 723-3785 or

The Bridge Peer Counseling Center: 723-3392