Academic journal article Alcohol Health & Research World

Alcohol and Female Sexuality

Academic journal article Alcohol Health & Research World

Alcohol and Female Sexuality

Article excerpt

Studies of associations between alcohol use and female sexuality have been far less abundant than similar studies in men (for general reviews, see Carpenter and Armenti 1972; Crowe and George 1989; Wilsnack 1984; and Wilson 1981). However, the importance of examining the relationship between women's alcohol consumption and various aspects of their sexuality has become increasingly apparent. Researchers now recognize that findings about male sexuality and drinking do not necessarily apply to women. For instance, laboratory studies have shown that women's and men's sexual responses to the knowledge that they have consumed alcohol differ dramatically (for reviews, see Crowe and George 1989, and Leigh 1990a).

Even similar alcohol-related problems in men and women may have different underlying reasons or lead to gender-specific consequences. For example, sexual dysfunction (e.g., men's erectile failure or women's lack of orgasm) may not have the same meaning for men and women and may affect subsequent drinking behavior differently. Thus, treatment of women and men with alcohol-related sexual dysfunction probably requires gender-specific approaches.

This article addresses two important issues of the relationship between alcohol consumption and female sexuality. First, it analyzes alcohol's effects on women's sexual behavior and reviews both experimental studies of alcohol's effect on sexual arousal and studies of alcohol use in conjunction with sex in everyday life. Second, it examines how alcohol consumption serves as a risk factor for sexual dysfunction, risky sexual behavior, and sexual victimization.

EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL ON SEXUAL AROUSAL

Few laboratory studies have investigated alcohol's pharmacological and psychological effects on women's sexual response. Analysis of the pharmacological effects showed that, similar to men, women experience decreased sexual responsiveness even at moderate(1) levels of alcohol consumption. In fact, increasing blood alcohol levels appear to cause a decrease in vaginal blood flow or orgasmic intensity and an increase in orgasmic latency (Crowe and George 1999; Leigh 1990a; Wilsnack 1984; Wilson 1981).

Women' s subjective experience of sexual arousal, however, does not parallel their physiological response. As blood alcohol levels increase and physiological indicators of arousal show lowered responsiveness, women report being more sexually aroused (Crowe and George 1989; Leigh 1990a; Wilsnack 1984; Wilson 1981). Men's self-reported sexual arousal, in contrast, corresponds to the physiological measures.

Psychological effects of alcohol are manifested in the form of outcome expectancies associated with alcohol consumption. Expectancies are individuals' beliefs about the effects of alcohol on their own or others' behavior. Research has shown that women and men hold essentially the same outcome expectancies about alcohol's effects on sexual behavior (for review, see Crowe and George 1989). In these studies, approximately 50 percent of the women and men surveyed believe that alcohol enhances or disinhibits sexual behavior.

Laboratory experiments have studied the effects of expectancies with the balanced placebo design. This experimental design manipulates two factors: the belief instilled by the experimenter that alcohol has or has not been consumed ("expectancy set") and the actual presence or absence of alcohol in the subject's beverage. Thus, four experimental groups are created: subjects who expect and receive alcohol, subjects who expect alcohol but do not receive it, subjects who do not expect alcohol but do receive it, and subjects who do not expect alcohol and do not receive it. This design allows researchers to identify alcohol effects that are solely the result of the expectancy set and that occur presumably because of the individual's underlying outcome expectancies.

Balanced placebo studies have shown different influences of expectancy set for men and women. …

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