Postdrinking Sexual Perceptions and Behaviors toward Another Person: Alcohol Expectancy Set and Gender Differences
George, William H., Stoner, Susan A., Davis, Kelly Cue, Lindgren, Kristen P., Norris, Jeanette, Lopez, Peter A., The Journal of Sex Research
Expectancy processes play an important role in postdrinking sexuality: both men and women expect alcohol to enhance sex (see reviews by Crowe & George, 1989; George & Norris, 1991; George & Stoner, 2000). Alcohol expectancy set--the experimentally-manipulated belief that one has been drinking--has been shown to increase men's sexual arousal and interest. However, comparable effects have not been observed in women, suggesting important gender differences in the psychological processes associated with postdrinking sexuality. Clarifying these differences may aid in delineating alcohol's role in heterosexual sexual encounters, including sexually risky and aggressive situations. In this study, we anticipated that men and women would differ in how they perceived another person sexually and would do so based on their own presumed drinking status as well as the other person's. Furthermore, we anticipated that gender differences would be evident not only in perceptions, but also in behavior.
Alcohol Expectancy, Sexuality, and Gender
Alcohol's effects on sexuality were once thought to be determined solely by pharmacology. However, researchers now routinely distinguish between pharmacological and expectancy effects on post-drinking sexuality. In survey studies employing instruments developed to assess alcohol expectancies, men and women endorse the belief that "alcohol enhances sexual experiences" rather than the belief that it does not (e.g., Brown, Goldman, Inn, & Anderson, 1980). Individuals also see sub-themes reflecting more specific effects, such as sexual disinhibition (e.g., Leigh, 1990) and sexual risk-taking (e.g., Dermen & Cooper, 1994). In balanced placebo experiments, alcohol expectancy set--manipulated independently of actual alcohol ingestion--increased men's sexual arousal (e.g., Wilson & Lawson, 1976), interest in erotic materials (George & Marlatt, 1986), and sexual aggressiveness (Gross, Bennett, Sloan, Marx, & Juergens, 2001); but had no such effects on women (see review by Norris, 1994). However, Abbey, Zawacki, and McAuslan (2000) failed to find an expectancy set effect on sexual perceptions regardless of participant gender. Specifically, men and women in the expect-alcohol condition did not perceive an opposite-sex co-participant more sexually than participants in the expect-no-alcohol condition. Yet, men and women in the receive-alcohol condition perceived their co-participants more sexually than did counterparts in the receive-no-alcohol condition. This is a particularly interesting finding because the participant and co-participant were matched on drinking such that they both consumed either alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks. Therefore, increased sexual perceptions could have resulted from the participant's own intoxication or from the participant's expectancy set about the co-participant's drinking. This latter possibility is consistent with evidence from vignette experiments.
In vignette experiments, participants have perceived a drinking woman as more sexually available and willing to have sex than a nondrinking counterpart (e.g., George, Gournic, & McAfee, 1988). The drinking man has been perceived similarly (Corcoran & Bell, 1990; George et al., 1997, study 2). Drinking actors have been seen as being more sexy (Leigh, Aramburu, & Norris, 1992), showing more sexual initiative (e.g., Velez-Blasini & Brandt, 2000), and having more sexual intent (Abbey & Harnish, 1995) than nondrinking actors. In both dating (George, Cue, Lopez, Crowe, & Norris, 1995) and date rape (Abbey, Buck, Zawacki, & Saenz, 2003) vignettes, perceivers' endorsement of sex-related alcohol expectancies has been associated with seeing a drinking woman as more sexually responsive. Such findings document expectancy set effects for others, whereby participants ascribe more sexual responsiveness to a drinking than a nondrinking person.
In sum, people generally see alcohol as enhancing sex. …