Drinking Alcohol, Sex and Violence

What is the role of alcohol in sexual behavior, aggression, and unwanted sex? Does alcohol disinhibit? Is intoxication ever a valid excuse for rape or violence?

Sexual arousal, aggression, domestic and other violence, and rape are often attributed to the influence of alcohol and intoxication.

Surprisingly, what people THINK my be more important than what they DRINK.

Research has shown that men tend to become physically more sexually aroused when they think they have been drinking alcohol, even when they haven't. Women report feeling more sexually aroused when they falsely believe the beverages they have been consuming contain alcohol, although a measure of their physological arousal shows that they are physically becoming less aroused.

Men become more aggressive in laboratory studies in which they are drinking only tonic water but believe that it contains alcohol. They also become relatively less aggressive when they think they are drinking only tonic water, but are actually drinking tonic containing alcohol.

Thus, much sexual behavior as well as aggression associated with alcohol may be more a result of our beliefs than of the alcohol we consume.

Studies have failed to find that alcohol causes sexual behavior or aggression. In some societies alcohol has the effect of making people less aggressive and violent.

Nor does alcohol disinhibit our brains, in spite of common belief. Our society believes that alcohol acts to disinhibit us, and we often act disinhibited when intoxicated. But in those societies that do not believe that intoxication disinhibits, people do not act disinhibited when intoxicated. In short, if people think that intoxication disinhibits, then they tend to act as if it did. If people don't think it disinhibits, then they don't act as if disinhibited.

It is our culture and our beliefs that connect alcohol, sex and violence. Many experts suggest that people use this belief to justify their behaviors and avoid personal responsibility. The more people who accept the abuse of alcohol as an excuse for otherwise unacceptable behavior, the easier it is for people to use that an excuse. But intoxication is never an excuse for unacceptable behavior.


The crime of rape occurs whenever a person forces another to do something sexual against that person's will. It's that simple. Remember that:

  • A person has the right to say no to sex at anytime for any reason.
  • Rape is never the victim's fault. No one ever asks, wants, or deserves to be raped.
  • Date or acquaintance rape is all too common.
  • Women can rape women and men can rape men. Remember what rape is. (Contrary to popular belief, more rapes are committed against men than against women each year.)

Being under the influence of alcohol is never an excuse. If the victim is too drunk to say no, it's still rape. If the perpetrator is too drunk to know what he or she is doing, it's still rape.


A large proportion of all rapes are date (or acquaintance) rapes. Reduce your chances of being a victim:

  • When going out with someone new, don't feel you have to go alone. Go on a group date or meet in a public place.
  • Socialize with people who share your values and beliefs.
  • Communicate with your date. Don't send mixed messages.
  • Be aware and independent on dates. Have options on what you will do, pay your way, provide your own transportation.
  • Take care of yourself. Don't put yourself in a situation where other people might have to take care of you, because they might not be there.
  • Be careful about going into someone else's home or inviting them into yours. There are the places most acquaintance rape occurs.
  • Trust your instincts. If you don't feel comfortable in a situation, leave it.
  • If things start to get out of hand, leave or protest firmly and loudly.
  • Don't abuse alcohol and don't date anyone who does.



Intoxication is never an excuse for otherwise unacceptable behavior.


  • Bart, P. B., and O'Brien, P. H. Stopping Rape: Successful Survival Strategies. Elmsford, New York: Pergammon, 1985.
  • Heyden, S. M., et al. Fighting back works: the case for advocating and teaching self-defense against rape. JOPERD - the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 1999, 70, 31-35.
  • Howe, P., et al. Preventing Sexual Abuse/Assault: An Annotated Bibliography. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Ministry of Education, 1992.
  • Kramer, T. L., and Green, B. L. Posttraumatic stress disorder as an early response to sexual assault. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1991, 6(2),160-173.
  • Lexington Books. Sexual Coercion: A Sourcebook on Its Nature, Causes, and Prevention. Lexington, Massachusetts: Lexington Books, 1991.
  • McDowell, J. It Can Happen to You: What You Need to Know about Preventing and Recovering from Date Rape, Dallas, Texas: Word, 1991.
  • Masters, W. H. Sexual dysfunction as an aftermath of sexual assault of men by women. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 1986, 12(1), 35-45.
  • National Victims' Center. Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. Charleston, South Carolina: Crime victims' Research and Treatment Center, Medical University of South Carolina, 1992.
  • Storaska, F. How to Say No to a Rapist - and Survive. New York: Random House. 1975.
  • Wiehe, V. R., et al. Intimate Betrayal: Understanding and Responding to the Trauma of Acquaintance Rape. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 1995.

filed under: Health