AIDS and Behavior

, Volume 20, Supplement 1, pp 40–51 | Cite as

Does Drinking Improve the Quality of Sexual Experience?: Sex-Specific Alcohol Expectancies and Subjective Experience on Drinking Versus Sober Sexual Occasions

  • M. Lynne CooperEmail author
  • Ross E. O’Hara
  • Jorge Martins
Original Paper


The present study compared the self-reported quality of emotional experiences on sexual occasions that differed in levels of alcohol consumption to determine whether widely held beliefs about alcohol’s positive effects on sex are borne out in people’s everyday sexual experience. Multilevel models were estimated using data from 7442 discrete sexual events collected over a 10+ year period from a community sample of 1946 Black and White young adults. Tests of between-person differences revealed that beliefs that drinking both enhances and disinhibits sexual experience are widely endorsed, and that those who hold strong expectancies for enhancement drink significantly more on sexual occasions than those who do not. Nevertheless, tests of within-person differences revealed that people’s sexual experiences were generally less positive on drinking than sober occasions, even after controlling for a host of individual difference and event-level characteristics. Moreover, cross-level expectancy × alcohol interaction tests showed that even those who strongly endorsed alcohol’s positive effects failed to report more positive sexual experiences on drinking versus sober occasions, with a single exception: Those with strong expectancies for sexual enhancement reported greater arousal at high consumption levels, whereas those with weak enhancement expectancies reported lower arousal. In short, drinking on sexual occasions failed to deliver any benefit for the majority of individuals across the majority of outcomes. Why positive beliefs are maintained in the face of largely contradictory experience, and how this information can be used to inform intervention and prevention is explored.


Alcohol-related sex expectancies Alcohol use Sexual experience Event-level analyses Within-person analyses 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Lynne Cooper
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ross E. O’Hara
    • 2
  • Jorge Martins
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychological SciencesUniversity of Missouri ColumbiaColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Connecticut Health CenterFarmingtonUSA

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