More Drinks, More Likely To Use Condoms?

by Krystin Arneson

Two things that go well together: heavy drinking and condom use. Don't believe us? Well, a new study published in the Journal Of Sex Research examines the condom-pushing habits of college-aged women, and, as it turns out, we ladies are doing pretty damn well for ourselves — especially after a few drinks. Yep, you read that right: We're actually more careful with condom use when it comes to casual sex and heavy drinking than we are when we're sober, and/or in relationships.

The study looked at various lifestyle attributes — diet, alcohol consumption, sex habits, sexual relationships and partners, drug use — and put together tons of fascinating data about how condom use relates to all of this.

In terms of condom use generally, we're doing OK: 61 percent of women reported using condoms during sex. And the more unfamiliar the partner, the more likely we are to insist on using condoms.

Condom use was less common in events involving romantic partners (58%) than in events involving casual partners (72%). Women were least likely to use condoms in events involving established romantic partners (55%) and most likely to use them in events involving friends (74%) and acquaintances (79%).

But what happens after a few drinks? Well, some would try to tell women that after some shots you'll hook up with someone, have unprotected sex, get an STD, or get knocked up. Worse, there are some who tell college women that if they don't want to get sexually assaulted, they just shouldn't drink at all.

In reality? Only 20 percent of sexual encounters involve alcohol. Women who have had quite a few drinks are still vigilant about condom use — more so, actually, than when they're sober or have only consumed "some" drinks.

Even in situations involving heavy drinking (four or more drinks), during which we might expect disinhibition to lead to decreases in safe-sex behavior, we found no evidence of decreased condom use across this sample of women. However, in events during which some drinking occurred (20% of all events), we found a negative association between number of drinks consumed and condom use; that is, as number of drinks increased, condom use decreased, which may suggest that only extremely high levels of drinking reduce the probability of condom use.

Twist! Maybe we can chalk it up to that weird sense of hyperawareness that sometimes comes when we're drunk: The need to be really careful about everything. Interestingly, the phrase "self-fulfilling prophecy" comes into play: Women who were more convinced that drinking led to risky sex were the ones less likely to use a condom.

And for partners who'd gotten high beforehand, condom use was higher when, um, high — 67 percent (normal use, remember, was 61 percent).

As we've reported, men, on the other hand, have some work to do in the condom arena:

Esquire’s 2012 Sex Survey indicated that only 34 percent of men wear a condom during sex because “they like to be careful” (you gents!), while 11 percent said they didn’t wear one because they didn’t like them (but presumably like STDs). Fifty-six percent of men said they were in a committed relationship, so they didn’t see the need to use them.

In any case, this newest study of women and condom use served to turn a few old stereotypes on its head. As we move further towards the prospect of male birth control, we women are certainly doing our part to make some pretty good decisions. Even if the fourth tequila shot, come morning, wasn't one of them.