A typical girls' night out may include a couple of wine glasses, cocktails, and beers at the bar. And no matter a woman’s beverage of choice, simply sitting by her glass may send off the wrong signal. According to a recent study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, women who simply sat next to a beer at the bar were perceived by both men and women as more flirtatious and more likely to consent to sex.

Some men perceive alcohol consumption in women as an indication of sexual intent. This commonly held belief has led to men labeling excessive female drinkers as promiscuous, aggressive, and unreliable.

However, women’s sexual interest is diminished by alcohol, says the Mayo Clinic. Ethanol reduces both men’s and women’s sexual sensitivity with regular and prolonged drinking. In men, alcohol can pose a challenge for getting and maintaining an erection, while for women it can reduce lubrication, ability to orgasm, and the intensity of the orgasm. Alcohol, clearly, is not an aphrodisiac.

A team of researchers at Deakin University School of Psychology in Melbourne, Australia, sought to determine whether assumptions of sexual intent can extend to the simple presence of alcohol. A total of 147 sexually experienced participants — 69 male and 78 female — were recruited for the study. The cohort was shown a brief video of social interaction between a man and woman depicted with either a bottle of water or alcohol. The participants were asked to rate the female target on sexual intent to determine the association between gender and alcohol placement of processing sexual intent.

The findings revealed men rated the actress in the video as more flirtatious, promiscuous, and seductive when she was sitting next to the beer, compared to the women participants. Unlike previous findings in this field, sexual-related variables such as likely sexual relationship between targets and attractiveness of the female target was what increased the level of perceived sexual intent, according to Discover Magazine’s “Seriously, Science?section. Personality traits did not contribute to perceptions of female promiscuity. This suggests alcohol may be a cue used by men in their social environment to process sexual intent.

A similar 2007 study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly found teens’ perceptions of adolescent girls’ flirtatiousness is based on what girls — as well as their romantic male partners — are drinking. Myths such as women who excessively drink alcohol are promiscuous actually contribute to the high rate of sexual assault among women, since they lead to misperceptions about women’s true intentions. The researchers sought to determine whether adolescents hold these beliefs too, since adolescent girls do have the highest rate of sexual assault.

Sources: Djokic J, Koukounas E, Miller P. The effect of gender and alcohol placement in the processing of sexual intent. Drug and Alcohol Review. 2014.

Boyd CJ, McCabe SE, Young AM. Adolescents' Sexual Inferences about Girls Who Consume Alcohol. Mixed Drinks and Mixed Messages: Adolescent Girls' Perspectives on Alcohol and Sexuality. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 2007.