Alcohol increases desire for unprotected sex

Adapted from Lifting the Lid on AIDS, published in The Nation Newspaper, Malawi, 31st December 2011.

An analysis of a number of scientific studies have proved that alcohol increases the desire to have sex without a condom.  The review was published in the journal Addiction, the investigators in the study conclude that “The higher the blood alcohol content, the more pronounced the intention to engage in unsafe sex.”

It is well known that consuming alcohol reduces inhibitions, which leads to risk-taking behaviour, affects cognitive capacity, and has an impact on immune function but what has remained unclear is the link between alcohol and the transmission of HIV.

The investigators in this study examined the relationship between blood alcohol levels and self-reported intention to use a condom or engage in unprotected sex. They were able to analyse results from 12 studies conducted in the US that fit their research criteria.  They found that an increase in blood alcohol content of 0.1mg/ml was associated with a 3% increase in the likelihood of having unsafe sex.

Blood alcohol content depends on the strength of the drinks e.g. whisky is stronger than beer, your weight, whether you ate any food, how fast you drank, and how fast your body can metabolise alcohol….that means unfortunately I cant give you a fixed equation but on average if you weigh about 80kg, drinking 3 beers in an hour could increase your blood alcohol content to 0.1mg/ml.

There are several limitations to this study but one major concern is that it is only looking at people’s intentions to engage in unprotected sex and not actual condom use. It should also be considered that people who drink more alcohol and have unsafe sex may have higher risk personality traits than others. This means that they may have personality characteristics that put them at higher risk of both activities, rather than that the alcohol caused them to have risky unprotected sex when they normally wouldn’t do so.