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Cocaine administration dose-dependently increases sexual desire and decreases condom use likelihood: The role of delay and probability discounting in connecting cocaine with HIV



Although cocaine use has been linked to sexual HIV risk behavior for decades, the direct effects of cocaine on sexual desire and sexual decision-making are unexamined. Research suggests delay discounting (devaluation of future outcomes) and probability discounting (devaluation of uncertain outcomes) play roles in condom use decisions. This study examined the effect of cocaine administration on sexual desire, hypothetical condom use, and discounting tasks.


This double-blind, within-subjects study compared the effects of 0, 125, and 250 mg/70 kg oral cocaine HCl in 12 cocaine users. Measures included sexual desire and other subjective ratings, the Sexual Delay Discounting Task, the Sexual Probability Discounting Task, and monetary delay and probability discounting tasks.


Cocaine caused dose-related increases in sexual desire and prototypical stimulant abuse-liability ratings. Relative to placebo, cocaine did not significantly alter condom use likelihood when condoms were immediately available or when sex was associated with 100% certainty of sexually transmitted infection (STI). In contrast, cocaine dose-dependently strengthened the effect of delay (sexual delay discounting) and STI uncertainty (sexual probability discounting) in decreasing condom use likelihood. Cocaine caused no significant change in monetary delay and probability discounting.


This is the first study showing that cocaine administration increases sexual desire. Detrimental effects of cocaine on sexual risk were only observed when safer sex required delay, or STI risk was uncertain (representative of many real-world scenarios), suggesting a critical role of discounting processes. Lack of monetary effects highlights the importance of studying clinically relevant outcomes when examining drug effects on behavioral processes.

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Correspondence to Matthew W. Johnson.

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This work was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) through R01DA032363, R01DA035277, and T32DA007209. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Johnson, M.W., Herrmann, E.S., Sweeney, M.M. et al. Cocaine administration dose-dependently increases sexual desire and decreases condom use likelihood: The role of delay and probability discounting in connecting cocaine with HIV. Psychopharmacology 234, 599–612 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-016-4493-5

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  • Cocaine
  • Delay discounting
  • HIV
  • Sexual risk behavior
  • Sexual desire
  • Humans