AIDS and Behavior

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 1647–1655 | Cite as

Alcohol Use and Sexual Risk Behavior in Young Women: A Qualitative Study

  • Kate B. CareyEmail author
  • Kate M. Guthrie
  • Carla M. Rich
  • Naomi H. Krieger
  • Alyssa L. Norris
  • Clair Kaplan
  • Michael P. Carey
Original Paper


Alcohol use and sexual behavior co-occur frequently in young women, increasing risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. To inform preventive interventions, we used qualitative methods to better understand how women think about the contribution of alcohol use to sexual risk-taking. Young women (N = 25; M = 22.8 years; 64% White) were recruited from a community-based reproductive health clinic to attend focus groups; a semi-structured agenda was used to investigate both a priori explanatory mechanisms as well as participant-driven explanations for the alcohol-sex association. Women reported that alcohol reduced their social anxiety, helped them to feel outgoing and confident, and lowered inhibitions and other barriers to sexual encounters (consistent with alcohol expectancies). During drinking events, women described being less concerned with risks, less discriminating regarding sexual partners, and less likely to insist on safer sex practices (consistent with alcohol myopia). These empirical findings support previous theory-based guidance for tailoring preventive programs for alcohol use and sexual risk reduction for young women.


Alcohol Sexual behavior Women Qualitative research Theory 



We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the study participants as well as the staff at the Providence Health Center. The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, or the National Institutes of Health.


This research was funded by Grant R34-AA023158 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to Michael P. Carey.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Behavioral and Social SciencesBrown University School of Public HealthProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Center for Alcohol and Addiction StudiesBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  3. 3.Centers for Behavioral and Preventive MedicineThe Miriam HospitalProvidenceUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Alpert Medical SchoolBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  5. 5.Department of Clinical ResearchPlanned Parenthood of Southern New EnglandNew HavenUSA
  6. 6.Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDSYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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