The confluence of sex and alcohol

Earlier this week I was at SXSW Interactive, where I spoke about sex education online.  I had a great time attending panels, networking, meeting people, and generally geeking out on social media and technology.  During the off-hours, there were parties with lots of free alcohol that went on late, late, late into the night.

I wonder how many of you now have an idea of where this post is going?

Early on in the conference, I was at a bar with friends.  One lovely man was flirting quite nicely with one particularly lovely woman.  They are friends back home, and here they were away from the daily constraints.  When the man went to get another drink, the woman confided in me that he had been interested in her for sometime, and that she wasn’t very sure about it.  The evening ended and everyone went home alone, more or less drunk.

And how many of you know where this post is going now?

Towards the end of the conference, I was at a great party with lots of that free alcohol and a winding group of friends who faded in and out of the core group and conversation.  The point to be made is that both my two friends from the earlier night were there, and they were both getting increasingly drunk. If people have high chances of addiction, Portland’s top alcohol treatment center is there to help!

Yeah, this is where this post is going.

I have seen my female friend extremely drunk before, and she gets very flirtatious and feels very sexy, she’s just that kind of drunk.  I turned to my male friend and said, “You’re not having sex with _______ tonight.  Just sayin’.”  He was like, “Yeah, whatever, it’s not going to happen anyway, so I don’t know why you’re bringing it up.”  Then my female friend returned and proceeded to throw herself, physically, sexually, psychically, at my male friend.  He seemed surprised, but pleased.  I pulled him aside and repeated myself, but now he understood why I was saying it.  He was torn by the open suggestiveness of my female friend, and my insistence that he had to obtain her interest when she was sober before he could have sex with her drunk.  I think sober he would not have been torn.

My friends did not have sex that night, but it was a relatively near miss that might have caused issues or hurt feelings between good friends.  It might also have been a lovely time.  I don’t know, and I won’t pretend to know.  But what I do know is that afterwards, when she was sober, my female friend thanked me.

Alcohol clouds judgment.  Many bad sexual choices come about when the participants are intoxicated.  The people in my story are in their mid-twenties and thirties.  They have experience drinking.  And yet they still get high holy drunk and do things they wouldn’t do sober.  My younger college students make this kind of mistake often and regret it regularly.

Having drunken sex might be fun, might be easier, might be more likely, than having sober sex.  But it is also more likely to result in an STD or pregnancy because let’s be honest – if someone is drunk enough to override their personal issues and tendencies, they’re far less likely to be able to use contraception correctly and effectively.

I am frustrated by the cavalier attitude of people around sex and alcohol.  So go talk with your friends, your family, your children about how alcohol has the capacity to change how you think about things and how you act.  Talk about ways to drink responsibly – not too much and preferably with a sober friend along to watch your back and do the driving.

Sex is a wonderful, life-supporting activity.  But it’s not all fun and games, it is also dead serious responsibility and emotional nuance.  We cannot ignore these aspects in conversation, education, and action around sex and sexuality.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I work in the field of teen drinking. This is the part I often focus on both with teen and parent groups. MADD has done a great job of talking about drinking and driving. Parents and teens think that designated driving and taking the keys keep their teens safe when they drink. Girls tell us they use alcohol to loosen up when they are not feeling ready for sex sober. Boys tell us that they use alcohol to get a girl ready for sex. Parents are shocked!

    Thanks for talking about this in the case of legal drinking. The same point needs to be considered when we accept (which we should not) that teen drinking is a rite of passage.

    Teens want to hear from adults what they really think. Parents, grandparents, and family friends need to know about the risks of teen drinking and talk openly with the kids they love.

  2. You are an awesome, AWESOME friend for stopping the train wreck. You set a great example for all other friends who might find themselves observing a similar situation.

  3. I have been reading your blogs regularly, passing them on to parents in my OWL class, and enjoying most of them…but this one deserves a comment. It is so seldom we hear about adults mixing sex and alcohol in any kind of honest way, truly speaking of the problems, as if they weren’t just problems for teenagers. We so often say to a young person things like, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” as if what they are hasn’t started yet. And we so often act as if adults have it all together; that at some magical age, it all makes sense.
    You are great at dispelling those attitudes. Thanks. I’ll pass this blog along.

  4. Well, I post something, run to the grocery store, and when I come back I find the post is far more attention-grabbing than I thought it would be. There have been private comments, by the way, that I overstepped my boundaries as a friend and inappropriately interfered with consenting adults, projecting my beliefs and morals on to them.

  5. That’s what friends do. It’s the difference between being a friend and being a bystander.

  6. This is a wonderful post, Karen. I talk as much as I can about how much sexual violence is done when the victim is impaired by either drugs or alcohol. Date rape: high, high percentage when the victim is drinking or drugging. “Random” sexual violence, done by someone unacquainted with the victim: high, high percentage when the victim is impaired, and cannot think well about safety and surroundings.


  7. “…that I overstepped my boundaries as a friend and inappropriately interfered with consenting adults, projecting my beliefs and morals on to them.”

    Hi Karen, I think you did fine. If anything was inappropriate it’s that you applied unequal pressure to your friends, requesting more responsibility from him than her. I assume from the story, though, that it was your conscious decision to do so because she was way more tanked than he was, and therefore less amenable to persuasion.

    But no, seriously, as Kate McCauley says what you did wonderfully illustrates the difference between friends and bystanders. Way to be there for your friends.

    I got a couple of takeaways from your reflections on him. First, how very little “designated driver” input it takes to remind someone to do the right thing… even in the face of his own intoxication… even in the face of his obvious personal desire and social conditioning to succumb to her (drunken) advances. That’s amazingly encouraging. The flip side, though, is how easily input in the other direction probably would have sent him into her open arms… with awkward-to-lamentable consequences for both of them when she (and possibly he) sobered up.

    I do wish we could do a little more analysis of the line between what we want sober and what we want drunk. Without getting *too* philosophical it seems like it’s as easy to claim that we’re overly self-conscious/inhibited when we’re sober as to say we have poor judgment when we’re drunk. But, as you point out, she wasn’t interested in him when she was sober, she was interested when she was drunk, then (since she thanked you for intervening) she wasn’t interested again when she sobered up again. But… but…

    By the way, I loved the pacing of your variations on “do you know where this post is heading?” My only beef is when I posted about it on my main blog I couldn’t say much without giving away the story.

    Glad you’re doing what you’re doing,


  8. Indeed, figleaf, she was far more tanked than he. Which is exactly why I talked with him rather than her.

    And your point that it took very little reality-check on my part to convince him (i.e., remind him) is a good one. In fact, it really only took one good look. He threw his hands up in the air and accused me of looking at him like his mother does, with a look that says: “You can do what you want, but I expected more of you than this.” And I thought, “Damn, I didn’t realize I was that good!” But it’s true, he could have done what he wanted. I would have stopped dropping hints and glaring, and I would have been disappointed. I probably would not have called him the next day.

    Of course, as my friend pointed out, this all sounds very sordid and inappropriate when it’s laid out online like this. He was a bit hurt, although he’s since gotten over it, so he couldn’t have been too bothered. And he’s right. They would have been fine if they had had sex. Maybe some awkwardness, maybe some hurt feelings, but fine. They’re both adults, and they would have handled the fall-out fine. In fact, if I hadn’t blogged about it, I’m sure everyone would have forgotten about it by now. So I just want to make the point that these are both good people who I like very much, who are friends, who are adults, and who would have been just fine if I hadn’t gotten involved.

  9. Well, regardless of whether two adults can handle it, teens, alcohol and sex don’t often mix well. At least not that I’ve seen.

  10. No one does anything drunk that at some level they do not want to do. Period….

    Lets not be infantile.

    Acknowledge the sub concious.

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