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

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Supplemental analyses were conducted to determine if similar results were obtained using W1 data vs. W2 and W3 data, given that feelings of love were measured differently at W1. Results showed that alcohol was negatively related to feelings of love in both subsets of data (bs = −.122 and −.142 for W1 and for W2 + W3, respectively). However, only the latter effect was significant at p < .001, owing at least in part to the larger number of events at W2 + W3 (4910 vs. 1796).

  2. 2.

    Supplemental analyses were also conducted to determine if similar results were obtained for emotional valence using W1 vs. W2 + W3 data. Despite use of different measurement approaches, results showed that alcohol was unrelated to emotional valence in both subsets (bs = −.028 and −.006, respectively, ns).

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Correspondence to M. Lynne Cooper.

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Cooper, M.L., O’Hara, R.E. & Martins, J. Does Drinking Improve the Quality of Sexual Experience?: Sex-Specific Alcohol Expectancies and Subjective Experience on Drinking Versus Sober Sexual Occasions. AIDS Behav 20, 40–51 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10461-015-1136-5

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Keywords

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