Under the Hood

Losing Your Virginity By Way Of Alcohol Places You At Risk For Assault: Women's Health Update

hanging out
If your first sexual experience involves alcohol, you are placing yourself at risk for unintended pregnancy, assault, and a future containing more of the same. TheeErin, CC by 2.0

If your first sexual experience involves alcohol, you are likely placing yourself at risk for unintended pregnancy and assault, researchers say. While this may seem obvious, the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions study also offers another more surprising kernel of wisdom: Your future is likely to contain more of the same behavior.

Sadly, past scientific research has mapped a clear path from alcohol to hastily-considered sex. Liquid courage allows many people (including guys) to get loose, forget their body hang-ups, and go with the flow. To better understand the intersection between drinking and sex, Dr. Jennifer A. Livingston, senior research scientist, and her colleagues surveyed 228 women, between the ages 18 and 20, about their sexual experiences and alcohol habits. The average age the women began drinking was 14 and the average age for first sexual intercourse was 16.

Women whose first sexual experiences involved alcohol usually occurred outside a real relationship (in other words, a hook-up), the researchers discovered. Plus, these sexual experiences frequently happened after a party (or any gathering) involving alcohol and also involved a partner using substances.

“These partners may be significantly older, more aggressive, not well-known, or substance users themselves," Livingston said in a press release.

A Pattern Develops

Most of the time girls who lost their virginity in this way had done less planning, felt less desire, and later believed the experience to be more negative than girls who lost their virginity without alcohol.

“In these contexts, there is less discussion of birth control and greater risk of sexually transmitted diseases, sexual assault, and unintended pregnancy,” said Livingston. By comparison, non-drinking sex usually was described by girls as wanted, planned, and more positive. Generally these experiences happened with a boyfriend.

Unfortunately, some of the girls who used alcohol to lose their virginity continued down that path.

“Over time, these young women continued to use alcohol in conjunction with sex, which further exposed them to high-risk partners,” Livingston said.

Nearly one in five of the young women who used alcohol to lose their virginity reported they had been raped. Going forward, these same women were three times more likely to be victims of incapacitated rape, the researchers discovered.

“Alcohol-related risks should be addressed in sexuality education and sexual risks included in substance use prevention,” Livingston said. Though legal, alcohol is most definitely a drug.

Source: Livingston JA, Testa M, Windle M, Bay-Cheng LY. Sexual risk at first coitus: Does alcohol make a difference? Journal of Adolescence. 2015.

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