Alcohol and Your Sexual Health

Alcohol and Your Sexual Health

Alcohol and Your Sexual Health

You and your family may enjoy many time-honored traditions for celebrating Christmas and New Year’s. But quite often, our celebrations include alcohol.

As a young woman, you may wonder how alcohol consumption could affect your sexual health and your ability to make healthy sexual decisions.

Let’s take a look at the relationship between drinking alcoholic beverages and risky sexual behaviors that could lead to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or unintended pregnancy.

Alcohol and Sexual Choices

Alcohol lowers your inhibitions about sexual behavior, and both men and women who consume alcohol are more likely to choose “casual” sex than non-drinkers. In fact, one study revealed that 65% of students surveyed admitted that alcohol or drugs were a factor in their most recent sexual encounter (Grello, Welsh, and Harper, 2006).

Binge drinking can be described as having 4 or more drinks on a single occasion. Women binge drinkers have reported having anal sex at twice the rate of women who drink without binging, and three times the rate of women who abstain from alcohol completely. In addition, women who binge are twice as likely to report multiple sex partners as non-drinkers (Hutton, McCaul, Santora, and Erbelding, 2008).

Alcohol also increases your risk of being raped. It is estimated that in 81% of college rapes, both the attacker AND the victim had consumed alcohol prior to the attack (University of Illinois, 2010).

One ironic fact is that although alcohol increases the likelihood you’ll have sex, it also makes having sex less enjoyable – people report more pleasurable sexual encounters when sober than they do after drinking alcohol (University of Illinois, 2010).

Alcohol and STDs

Did you know that you are more likely to get an STD if you have sex while drunk than if you had the same sexual encounter while sober? That’s because alcohol impairs your immune system, reducing your body’s ability to fight off infections, including STDs (University of Illinois, 2010).

Individuals become less concerned about STDs when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and they are more likely to have multiple sex partners. For example, women binge drinkers contract gonorrhea at five times the rate of women who abstain from alcohol. Alcohol has a greater impact on women’s sexual choices and STD risk than for men (Hutton, McCaul, Santora, and Erbelding, 2008).

Alcohol and Unintended Pregnancy

At least half of women of childbearing age use alcohol at least occasionally, and about 15% of women who use alcohol binge drink (Centers for Disease Control, 2014). Individuals are less concerned about unintended pregnancy after drinking although the risk is actually greater (University of Illinois, 2010).

In a study of 72,000 pregnant women in Australia, 45% of the pregnancies were unintended. Of unintended pregnancies, a higher share of women reported binge drinking, compared with women whose pregnancies were intended (Manocha, 2011).

Besides increasing your risk of unintended pregnancy, excessive drinking can harm your reproductive health in other ways, according to the CDC (2014). Too much alcohol:

  • Can disrupt your menstrual cycle
  • Can increase your risk of infertility
  • Increases your risk of miscarriage
  • Increases your risk of stillbirth
  • Increases your risk of premature delivery

You’ve likely heard that it’s best to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. The problem is that about 5% of women report drinking excessively before knowing they are pregnant. Drinking at any time during pregnancy, especially before you know you’re pregnant, increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and prematurity. It also increases the risk that your child will have mental, physical, or emotional disabilities, and your baby will be more likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

So as you celebrate the Christmas season and welcome the New Year, you can make your wellbeing a priority by limiting your alcohol intake, or by abstaining from alcohol altogether.

As a result, you’ll enjoy better sexual health and a healthier life for your children if you do become pregnant.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Fact Sheets — Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women’s Health. Accessed from http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/womens-health.htm.

Grello, C. M., Welsh, D. P., & Harper, M. S. (2006, August.) No strings attached: The nature of casual sex in college students. The Journal of Sex Research, 43(3), 255-267.

Hutton, Heidi E., Mary E. McCaul, Patricia B. Santora, and Emily J. Erbelding. (2008). The Relationship Between Recent Alcohol Use and Sexual Behaviors: Gender Differences Among Sexually Transmitted Disease Clinic Patients. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 32(11), 2008-2015. 

Manocha, Ramesh. (2011). Binge Drinking Leads to Unwanted Pregnancies. Generation Next. (May 20). Accessed from http://www.generationnext.com.au/2011/05/binge-drinking-leads-to-unwanted-pregnancies/.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2010). What You Should Know About Sex and Alcohol. Accessed at http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/handouts/sex_alcohol.html.