Motivation and emotion/Textbook/Motivation/Alcohol consumption and sexual motivation
Alcohol consumption and sexual motivation
Overview of Chapter
This chapter will enhance students' understanding of the concepts and theories underlying sexual motivation and alcohol consumption. Upon completion of this chapter is a 'test yourself' segment which reiterates the main themes and ideas pointed out in the chapter. This topic will be broken down into eight topics, where past and current research will be combined to enhance the individual's knowledge of this extensively broad topic. The topics vary in length because some aspects have a lot more research. Shorter topics are indicative of where further research needs to be focused, or possibly that the topic doesn't play as an important role as some of the other topics in understanding sexual motivation and alcohol.
The main question we all want to know is: what is the link between sexual motivation and alcohol? This is a question that this chapter will focus on, however, as you will read further into the chapter, this is something you will have to make up your own mind about. Hopefully, by breaking down the main components of sexual motivation in numerous activities (erotica, risky sex, sexual assault, perception, physiology and through measures like surveys and theories) and by providing a basic history of both sexual motivation and alcohol consumption, you will be able to come up with a new level of understanding about ways in which alcohol influences sexual motivation.
History of Alcohol Consumption
Determinants of how much, when, where, what and with whom one will drink include one’s taste, predilection and psychological needs and also one’s age, sex, society, education, socio-economic status and memberships in groups are important (Hanson, 1995). Alcohol has been an influential and growing commodity since early societies, and has been used for thousands of years, for many different reasons. This can be seen in the worldwide consumption of spirits, beer and wine increasing since the 1950’s, with the consumption of beer increasing more than spirits or wine (Hanson, 1995).
In early societies, alcohol had more than one use:
- It had important nutritional value
- It was often the best medicine available and helped relived illnesses that included pain
- It facilitated religious ecstasy and communion with the powers which were thought to control tribal and individual destiny
- It enabled periodic social festivity and the ‘happiness’ of consumers, thus serving as a means of recreation.
When contrasting the usage of alcohol from early societies to now more modern means, alcohol has changed in the following ways:
- In terms of nutritional value, alcohol retains little value beyond its calorie content
- As a form of medicine, it has only served a purpose for water-insoluble compounds and as a tonic
- In religion and common rituals, red wine is the only alcoholic beverage that has still retained its symbolic power, essentially becoming more powerful and more commonly used in the church for communions, in which it symbolizes the blood of God
- In festivals, alcohol is still predominately used as a form of recreation, with this being the most common modern day reason to consume alcohol.
Alcohol could still be used as a form of recreation in modern societies to reduce stranger anxiety, fear of punishment and for the individual to have something in common with other socialites (Hanson, 1995). This emphasises that the ancient uses of alcohol have not been forgotten in modern society; through the symbolisation of a drink being the announcer of friendship, peace and agreement between individuals. The common problem with alcohol usage in the modern society is that many people have discovered (like ancient times) that alcohol can relieve the symptoms of pain, being emotionally or physical. Furthermore, alcohol can also help them to suppress overwhelming inhibitions, shyness, anxieties and tensions which can see it as being used to alter moods, masking unease and pain, and enabling participation in groups which they might often have discomfort in doing so (such as festivals; Hanson, 1995).
History of Sexual Motivation
Motivation refers to an inferred need, desire or impulse which initiates, directs and sustains behaviour (Coon, 1997). Given this definition of motivation, it follows that sexual motivation is an inferred, internal state influenced by several factors which can determine the engagement in a sexual activity (Johnson, 1997). Firstly, it is important to reiterate that the motivation in humans to engage in sexual behaviour is due to a complex relationship between seven factors.
- Physiological Correlations
Sexual motivation could not proceed without physiological factors, in particular hormones (Hokanson, 1969; Leger, 1992). In lower species, hormones are almost completely correlated with sexual behaviour, however as we move up the species scale, other elements become involved. For instance, in males, a certain level of testosterone is necessary to maintain a normal sexual motivation balance (Leger, 1992). If males’ testosterone levels fall, sexual motivation becomes greatly reduced. Hokanson reiterates the importance of hormones readying the individual for action, but these other factors are the primary determinants of whether or not the individual engages in the sexual activity. A final physiological factor is that of odour (pheremones) and sense of smell. This has received the least attention on it, as its influence on sexual behaviour is difficult to conclude (Kohl & Francoeur, 1995).
- Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation refers to the direction of an individual’s sexual attraction (Wood & Wood, 1996). Our desire to engage in sexual behaviour is highly influenced by our sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is mainly directed by multiple factors such as: genetic makeup, hormones, genes and social experiences. Both nature and nurture play a role, but it has been concluded that culture is a high predictor of one’s sexual orientation, which influences sexual motivation (LeVay, 1995).
Abramson and Pinkerton (1995) point out that the pleasure that is gained from sexual activities is both physiologically and psychologically based, and that sex organs don’t merely exist to facilitate reproductive behaviour. Simplistically, humans engage in sexual behaviour because it is enjoyable, not just to ensure procreation.
How a stimulus is interpreted influences how individuals respond to that stimulus (Johnson, 1997). Since societies create very different gender roles for both men and women, the interpretation of a particular stimulus is bound to be different (Wade & Tavris, 1996). With this in mind, it is important to reiterate that culture influences sexual behaviour, not only through the appropriateness of those behaviours, but also by guiding the interpretation of stimuli.
- Cognitions and Arousal
As previously stated, the interpretation of stimulus plays an important role in the involvement of individuals in sexual behaviour. Studies conducted by Kinsey and colleagues (1948, 1953) found that men have been considered to be more sexually responsive to arousing stimuli than their female counterparts. Contradictory to this was a study conducted by Laan, Everaerd, Van Bellen and Hanewald, (1994) who played male-intended erotic films to both males and females. They found that the physiological arousing responses of males and females were the same, yet when asked to report their feelings of the stimuli, men reported sexual arousal and a positive effect, yet women report a lack of arousal and disgust. This difference could be due to how women interpret the content of the films, as both males and females have the same physiological arousal, but different subjective arousal.
Learning plays a highly influential role in sexual motivation. We copy the behaviours of those we respect and admire and repeat those behaviours that are rewarded and discontinue those that have negative outcomes. This idea has roots in the concept of ‘conditioning’ whereby certain stimuli may increase sexual arousal. A classic example of this is one becoming sexually aroused by the consumption of a particular wine, due to the learned association with a few sexual encounters having led to a positive (rewarding) sexual experience. In contrast to this, it has been stated that fear of rejection, something that is learnt over many situations, is usually the most common reason for single men not engaging in sexual activity (Leigh, 1989).
Culture plays an important role in sexual motivation. It determines what behaviours may be gender-specific, what may or may not be appropriate to perform in public and what stimuli and behaviours are considered sexually arousing or pleasurable. It is essential, however, to stipulate that learning plays a key role in culture and vice versa; we do not gain the knowledge of cultural norms without learning about these first. This is why when we view behaviours carried out by individuals of another culture; we often do so through coloured lenses influenced by the society in which we came from (Johnson, 1997).
Alcohol & Self-Reported Sexual Behaviour
The literature regarding sex and alcohol consumption is extensive and alcohol is usually associated with heightened rather than diminished sexual responding (George & Stoner, 2000). In situational studies, quite a large number of respondents report having drunk prior to sexual activities, leading to lower sexual inhibitions (Wilsnack, Wilsnack & Klassen, 1984) and increased sexual enjoyment (Athanasiou, Shaver & Tavris, 1970). Self-report surveys generally show that people usually view alcohol as enhancing and disinhibiting sexual feelings and behaviours. It is important to note, however, that respondents may report these feelings on due to stereotypes, culture, peers and society. With a strong cultural belief that drinking may lead to pleasurable sexual experiences, it could be argued that public health warnings stating that 'drinking leads to sex' may actually strengthen alcohol-related expectancies (Patrick & Maggs, 2009).
Alcohol use may lead to sex directly through disinhibition (MacDonald, MacDonald, Zanna & Fong, 2000). Conversely, the desire to engage in sexual behaviour may lead to heavier drinking because of the belief that alcohol favorably influences sexuality (Patrick & Maggs, 2009). Based on the alcohol expectancy theory, one of the reasons that some college students use alcohol is their expectation that alcohol facilitates sexual drive and sexual affect and decreases sexual inhibitions (Kotchick, Shaffer, Forehand, & Miller, 2001).
Patrick and Maggs (2009) depict that alcohol use and sexual experiences are likely to be related by some sort of reciprocal or feedback association between expectancies about links between drinking and sex, sexual behaviours and perceived positive and negative consequences of those events. They concluded that having these positive alcohol expectancies, or anticipating rewarding effects as a result of drinking, is associated with higher rates of alcohol use.
Alcohol expectancies are defined as the expected effects of consuming alcohol (George & Stoner, 2000). These expectancies are important determinants of drinking and the sexual outcomes that follow drinking. The Balanced Placebo Design (BPD) is a method utilised for controlling expectancies experimentally, in which two properties of drinking are manipulated systematically in the laboratory: perceived alcohol content (expectancy) and actual alcohol content (George & Stoner, 2000). Both groups are led to expect alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks, where half the group receives alcohol and the other half do not. An important limitation of BPD studies is that it limits the alcohol dosage to minimal levels (.06 being ceiling; Collins & Searles, 1988). Despite this limitation, BPD studies have divulged much about alcohol’s enhancement effects on sexual behaviour.
Alcohol & Sexual Arousal
Gender differences are quite common in alcohol-sex research, with men and women exhibiting some similar and some different effects. Firstly, both believe (to some extent) that alcohol enhances sexuality, and secondly, that it decreases both women and men’s genital reactions. Findings from research conducted in the 1970’s (Briddell & Wilson, 1976) found that alcohol suppressed penile tumescence (except at very low dosages; Farkas & Rosen, 1976) and increased orgasm latency in males (Malatesa, Pollack, Wilbanks & Adams, 1979). Similarly, research also found that alcohol also suppressed vaginal blood volume (Wilson & Lawson, 1978) and like males, increased orgasm latency (Malatesa, Pollack, Crotty & Peacock, 1982). These effects increased with alcohol dosage and were interpreted as being related to alcohol’s pharmacological properties (George & Stoner, 2000). Subjective sexual arousal is also affected, not only by blood alcohol content (BAC) but also by a person's beliefs about the effects of alcohol. That is, the expectancies about the relationship between alcohol and sex generated by the culture can influence how a person believes he or she will respond to sexual stimuli (George & Marlatt, 1986).
George and Marlatt (1986) utilised the BPD to manipulate alcohol (actual beverage) and expectancy set (apparent beverage) separately, and found that expectancy set increased men’s arousal, as well as exhibiting greater penile tumescence and increasing their subjective arousal. Consistent with this idea, George, Stoner, Norris, Lopez & Lehman (2000) found that high believers in the alcohol-stimulates-sex expectancy, reported more sexual arousal after consuming placebo drinks than did low believers. This can be explained by looking at the social learning framework which would stipulate that a man’s increased arousal after drinking (placebo or not) is mostly what he believes about alcohol (George & Stoner, 2000).
George and Stoner (2000) contend that there are several difficulties in drawing conclusions about alcohol and women’s arousal. Firstly, the majority of studies between alcohol consumption and arousal have focused on men, thus the experimental data is relatively small. And secondly, the few reported samples that have been utilised for women have produced confusing data that has been quite difficult to interpret. A classic example of this was founded by Wilson and Lawson (1978) who concluded that expectancy set did not affect vaginal arousal yet subjective arousal positively correlated with increased levels of intoxication. Given the dearth of studies, little can definitely be concluded about alcohol and women’s sexual arousal (at least in a laboratory setting).
Alcohol & Erotica Interest
BPD designs have been created to investigate the effects of alcohol variables on erotica interest. In six out of seven experiments (differentiating physiological and psychological properties of drinking), the BPD showed that alcohol variable affected erotica interest (George & Stoner, 2000). In each of these studies, men viewed the erotic film longer when accompanied by a co participant who was drinking, instead of one who was not.
In sum, all but one of these studies showed that either actual or placebo drinking increased participants’ interest in the exposure to erotic material. Lansky and Wilson (1981) assessed that these findings made three clear points:
- When looking at the difference between this data and survey data, we can almost conclude causation, as manipulated alcohol variables directly increased a sexually oriented behaviour.
- Nonpharmacological process which pertain to what drinkers merely think about their beverage can influence post-drinking sexuality, meaning that sexually orientated behaviour is not necessarily just based on physiology
- Social desirability, demand characteristics or cultural understandings cannot be attributed to results, as participants were blind to experimental conditions
Alcohol & Sexualised Social Perception
Minimal alcohol manipulations provide yet another strategy for studying alcohol consumption and sexual motivation. In this case, individuals are presented with a depiction of a person, which they are then asked to evaluate (George & Stoner, 2000). Garcia and Kushnier (1987) found that a female student was rated more ‘sexual’ if she was consuming alcohol, than if she wasn’t. This was further contended by three other studies (George et al., 1988, 1995, 1997) whereby a drinking woman was rated as more sexually ‘available’ and willing to engage in foreplay and sexual intercourse than their non-drinking counterparts. Similarly, Corcoran and Bell (1990) found that the drinking man has also been depicted this way. George and researchers (1997) also found that these perceptions (availability and willingness) increased the more an individual drank.
Alcohol & Risky Sex
In the past, the majority of research on alcohol and sexual motivation relied primarily on experimental methods, however more recently survey based studies have been conducted, leading to more awareness about the negative outcomes of sex and alcohol. Survey data has established an alcohol risky-sex link and have identified numerous demographic and personality correlates (George & Stoner, 2000). Engagement in a risky sex (such as unprotected sex) is preceded immediately by the experience of being sexually aroused. Evidence exists (Finnigan & Hammersley, 1992) which suggests that a BAC of .07% - .08% impairs the simultaneous processing of multiple sources of information, which has been hypothesised to underlie alcohol's influence on risky-sexual situations.
Young adults commonly consume alcohol before participating in a sexual act (Patrick & Meggs, 2009). A study by Hingson and collegues reported that at least 8% of U.S college students aged 18 to 24 have unprotected sexual intercourse resulting from alcohol use annually (Hingson, Heeren, Winter, & Wechsler, 2005). Patrick and Meggs conducted a study among college students which found a lower likelihood of condom use after consumption of alcohol. In two experiments, Gordon and colleagues (Gordon & Carey, 1996; Gordon, Carey & Carey, 1997) studied the effects of acute intoxication on risky sex antecedents derived from the information-motivation behaviour model. This model (as briefly summarised by George & Stoner, 2000) postulates that information (about HIV prevention/transmission) motivation (to change HIV risk behaviour) and behavioural skill (at performing preventive acts) all determine preventative behaviours (such as condom use). Gordon et al., (1996, 1997) found that in both studies, despite exhibiting risk knowledge, intoxicated men expressed more negative attitudes about condom use, more embarrassment about bringing up the use of condoms with a partner, reduced pleasure, and less appreciation for condom use advantages.
HIV prevention research has been devoted to identifying variables that influence the use of condoms, include the effects alcohol may have. The relationship between alcohol use and the occurrence of unprotected sex varies according to factors such as age, and sexual experience of participants (Maisto, Carey, Carey & Gordon, 2002).
Myopia theory is a very pertinent framework for understanding the alcohol, sexual arousal and risky sex interaction (MacDonald, MacDonald, Zanna, & Fong, 2000). Alcohol myopia models emphasise the importance of alcohol content over expectancy set, whereby it is characterised by a falsely simplified or myopic vision of reality (George & Stoner, 2000). Research conducted on alcohol myopia is based on Steele’s inhibitory conflict model (Steele & Josephs, 1990), which found that intoxicated participants exhibit greater intentions to have unprotected sexual intercourse. Based on this idea, Murphy, Monahan and Miller (1998) used the BPD to investigate women’s willingness to date ‘risky’ men. Women were shown a video which portrayed several attractive/non-attractive men and relayed their past sexual encounters. They found that intoxicated women rated the high conflict man (attractive and promiscuous) as having more potential for a sexual relationship than did their sober counterparts. In another survey (Fromme, D’Amico & Katz, 1999) it was founded that intoxicated young men and women indicated that negative consequences were less likely to occur in risky situations, and that knowing the past of a promiscuous counterpart would not influence their decision to engage in a sexual activity with them. In another study conducted by the same researchers, participants watched a video where a couple were contemplating sexual intercourse without a condom. After the video, participants were asked to list the potential consequences of continuing intercourse without a condom. Intoxicated participants listed fewer negative consequences than did placebo and non-alcohol consuming counterparts.
Alcohol & Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is a form of sexual aggression, which includes sexual harassment, sexual coercion, sexual assault (attempted rape and rape, exhibitionism) and child molestation (George & Stoner, 2000). A basic definition of sexual aggression is when the perpetrator engages in non-consensual sexual behaviour with a victim. Research has implicated alcohol use or abuse as a leading factor in sexual assault (e.g. Benson, Charlton & Goodhart, 1992; Seto & Barbaree, 1995). George and Stoner completed a review of studies attributed to sexual assault and alcohol consumption, and found that these studies involved a male perpetrator and a female victim, due to the majority of adult sexual assaults being in this constellation.
Non-experimental studies have been utilised to understand the involvement of alcohol and rape. One way of gathering data is through the use of interview or case studies from convicted rapists. Conclusions that George and Stoner found among much literature research indicated that between 40 and 63% of offenders had been drinking at the time of the incident.
Another alternative method for seeking data on past rape cases is to look at police records. Using this approach, it has been found that in 34 to 72% of cases, the victim, perpetrator or both had been drinking at the time of the assault. George and Stoner do not forget to mention the limitations of these statistics. They found a lot of biases inherent in the above methods because:
- reported rapes only represent a small amount of actual rapes
- those rapes where one is convicted is an even smaller percentage of actual rapes
- rapists could often be motivated to shift the blame and legal culpability from themselves, to that of alcohol
- victims may be motivated to implicate alcohol as a way of documenting their incapacitation
- there may be distortions in the records gathered through police files due to interrogation methods used during the interviewing procedure.
Consequently, Koss and Dinero (1988) found that alcohol use was one of four strong predictors of being sexually victimised and harassed. Interestingly, many female victims in college have reported that the administration of drugs or alcohol was the method used by an offender to force sexual intercourse (George & Stoner, 2000; for a full review see Finley & Corty, 1993). Similarly, college men report having used alcohol for this exact purpose, with more than 20% believing it is justified to initiate sex on intoxicated women (Davis, Peck & Storment, 1993). Offenders aren’t often the only one who believes this is acceptable. In a study conducted by Richardson and Campbell (1982), they found that subjects judged a drinking rapist to be less blameworthy than a sober counterpart, but perceived the drinking victim as more blameworthy than one who was not drinking. Therefore, third party observers in this study saw alcohol as influencing and in many cases excusing the behaviour performed by a rapist.
Obviously, alcohol effects on sexual assault cannot be investigated directly under laboratory settings, however, using many methods as mentioned above, it is safe to say that alcohol can be deemed as a variable which can have an influential impact on how sexual assaults are carried out or perceived.
- Sexual Motivation
- Sexual Orientation
- Alcohol Expectancy Theory
- Alcohol Expectancies
- Balanced Placebo Design (BPD)
- Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
- Alcohol Myopia Model
- Sexual Assault
- Alcohol has been used for many centuries as a supplement of food (for nutritional value), medicine, and for religious activities and festivals
- Sexual motivation is an inferred, internal state influenced by physiological correlations, sexual orientation, pleasure, cognitions, arousal, learning, and culture
- Self report surveys usually find respondents agreeing that alcohol enhances and disinhibits sexual feelings and behaviours
- Alcohol creates orgasm latency, and lack of penile and vaginal blood volume in both males and females
- Alcohol enhances sexual erotica interest physiologically in both men and women, however, the sexes differ in how they percieve the content/material; with studies finding men enjoy it more then do their female counterparts
- Stereotypes view women who consume alcohol, as more 'willing', 'available', and 'sexual' by their male respondents. This is an indicator of a sexualised social perception from those who both drink and those who watch others drink.
- The consumption of alcohol is associated with a willingness to engage in risky sex (e.g., without condom usage).
- Alcohol use is one of four predictors leading up to sexual assault. Not only does it play a high role in the act being committed itself, but also through the way individuals perceive the seriousness the behaviour and who is to blame for those who have been drinking (be victim or offender)
For more information, please click on any of the links below.
- Wikiversity (Textbook) Chapters
- Wikipedia Pages
- Sexual Abuse
- Human Sexual Activity
- Sexual Arousal
- Sexual Orientation
- Alcohol Myopia Theory
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