Setting ourselves up for risky sex?

By Kristin Canning

Most people assume that binge drinking brings with it risky behavior. If you see a college student that’s clearly intoxicated at the bar, and they’re even in the vicinity of someone of the opposite sex, it’s likely that rumors will fly that the two of them engaged in sexual activity. That’s not always true. But why do we form the stereotype that binge drinking leads to risky sexual behavior? Is there any proof that you’re more likely to have sex while drunk?

There is. According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, binge drinking on multiple occasions has a strong positive effect on the number of sexual partners a person has. The study of 18-24-year-olds found that episodes of binge drinking meant more sex with multiple recent partners, both overall and without condoms.

College students who binge drink regularly may have more sexual partners. Photo source: Gray, W. B. (n.d.). The Gray Report.Binge drinking leads to multiple sex partners. Retrieved November 9, 2013, from

This data isn’t all that surprising. What we often assume to be true, often is true. However, that doesn’t mean all drinking leads to more sex. The same study found that non-binge drinking had no effect on promiscuity.

But why should we worry about the links between binge drinking and sex? If we know that binge drinking leaves us vulnerable and not always able to give consent, then aren’t we making a choice by binge drinking to put ourselves in that situation?

Most people that binge drink don’t look at it that way. According to a 2008 study by Johns Hopkins University, women who binge drink are more likely to have unsafe sex and have sexually transmitted diseases, but they don’t always drink in order to lower sexual inhibitions.

Researcher Geetanjali Chandler said, “Initially, some individuals may drink with the expectation of decreasing inhibitions or some may drink because they are anxious or depressed, and they expect alcohol to alleviate their symptoms. Regardless of why they choose to drink, many people do not perceive the potential risk or harm that may result from binge drinking.”

That’s because binge drinkers don’t see what they’re doing as binge drinking. College culture places students in unreasonable drinking situations. Having one or two drinks isn’t even considered drinking, because the person isn’t perceived as “drunk.” Having four or five drinks in a sitting is completely reasonable at a college party. If everyone is on the same level of intoxication, it doesn’t seem scary or abnormal, and it’s difficult for people to perceive danger in an accepting group setting.

The idea of what binge drinking is needs to change. College students need to be aware that it takes less drinks than they think to be “binge drinking.” They need to know their limits in order to be responsible sexually.

Binge drinking will get you nowhere positive emotionally or physically. Whether you’re actually having more and/or unprotected sex while under the influence, for most onlookers, it’s all the same. It’s miserable enough to have rumors spread about you, but it stings even more knowing that because you were too drunk to stop yourself, those rumors are actually true.


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