Alcohol Use and Sexual Risk Behavior in Young Women: A Qualitative Study


Alcohol use and sexual behavior co-occur frequently in young women, increasing risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. To inform preventive interventions, we used qualitative methods to better understand how women think about the contribution of alcohol use to sexual risk-taking. Young women (N = 25; M = 22.8 years; 64% White) were recruited from a community-based reproductive health clinic to attend focus groups; a semi-structured agenda was used to investigate both a priori explanatory mechanisms as well as participant-driven explanations for the alcohol-sex association. Women reported that alcohol reduced their social anxiety, helped them to feel outgoing and confident, and lowered inhibitions and other barriers to sexual encounters (consistent with alcohol expectancies). During drinking events, women described being less concerned with risks, less discriminating regarding sexual partners, and less likely to insist on safer sex practices (consistent with alcohol myopia). These empirical findings support previous theory-based guidance for tailoring preventive programs for alcohol use and sexual risk reduction for young women.

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We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the study participants as well as the staff at the Providence Health Center. The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, or the National Institutes of Health.


This research was funded by Grant R34-AA023158 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to Michael P. Carey.

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Correspondence to Kate B. Carey.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Carey, K.B., Guthrie, K.M., Rich, C.M. et al. Alcohol Use and Sexual Risk Behavior in Young Women: A Qualitative Study. AIDS Behav 23, 1647–1655 (2019).

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  • Alcohol
  • Sexual behavior
  • Women
  • Qualitative research
  • Theory