Ending Addiction for Good

4 Ways to Avoid Risky Sex While Drinking

Staying alert and going out with friends can help you stay safe when drinking.

Imagine lying in bed the morning after a binge as you reconstruct the night. Oh right! Now you remember going from the first party to the second. You remember the drink that put you over the edge. And you barely remember ending up in a bedroom, your clothes falling away. What did you do? Some binge drinkers aren’t this lucky; they know even that night in the haze of many drinks that what’s happening in the bedroom isn’t right – what they’re doing or having done to them is forced or unsafe or not anything at all that they want. 

Drinking leads to sexual consequences ranging from reckless and risky behavior to sexual assault and rape. Here are four proven ways to keep yourself or the people you care about safe from the negative consequences of sex while drinking.

1. Sober Companion

We all know about designated drivers. Drawing straws to see who drives can keep you from making the ultimate bad decision to put your life and others at risk by driving under the influence. But what about all the other bad decisions you can make while drinking? The fact is, past a certain threshold, you can no longer trust yourself to make good sexual decisions. A sober companion can not only be keeper of the car keys, but can help you know when it’s not okay to “just go upstairs for a couple minutes” or can help you see when that special someone is drunk past the point of being able to offer consent. A sober companion can keep you safe. For example, this study shows that people were more likely to leave clubs with manageable blood levels of drugs and alcohol when they were with sober companions. Let your trusted sober companion keep you safe not only from crashing a car, but from crashing into sexual behaviors you will regret in the morning.

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2. Stop Short of Blacking Out

By now you probably know your limit. But unfortunately, this study shows that many problem drinkers consider their limit to be the point of sickness or blacking out. For women and for men of all sexual orientations, blacking out is a major risk factor for dangerous sexual activity, be it unprotected or non-consensual sex. If you know you’re prone to drinking until you pass out, there are many strategies you can use to cap your drinking: consider supplying yourself with a limited number of “drink tickets” before you start the night – these can be as simple as rubber bands around your wrist. Or avoid pre-drinking and choose to drink slowly. If these basic strategies fail to keep you from drinking until you black out, consider seeking help for your drinking problem before it results in real, irreversible sexual consequences. 

3. Stick Together

Even if your group doesn’t happen to include a sober companion, simply making the decision to stick together can help keep you safe from sexual consequences. When you go from the first party to the second, take a head count. You know that you wouldn’t want to be the person left behind and so you can make the decision as a group not to leave anyone behind. This study shows that not only are people in groups naturally protected against risky sexual behaviors, but the culture of most social groups includes the idea of taking care of people who are most inebriated. Groups generally take care of their drunkest members. If you’re on the giving end of helping to take care of your friends, expect to be on the receiving end of this care when you need it most. 

4. Know When to Doubt Your Decisions

Drinking makes your brain physically incapable of making good social decisions. This article on early view at the journal Addictive Behaviors shows that alcohol decimates your ability to judge if someone has good or bad intentions, and even affects your ability to recognize social cues like sarcasm. With alcohol, you lose the ability to make judgments based on facial expressions and body language; you stop being able to place social cues in context and to imagine the consequences of your actions; this blunt edge to your ability to be “on your game” leads to real-world sexual consequences. You may truly think you can trust a person who seems to be so into you, when really you can’t trust this person at all. Most important, when you’re drinking, know that you can’t trust yourself.

If you’re going to drink, use these strategies to keep yourself safe. But on a deeper level, they key to staying sexually safe is to address and manage problem drinking behaviors themselves. It’s like walking a tightrope; no matter how well you manage the risk, if you do it enough times, eventually you’re going to fall. If problem drinking or addiction puts your sexual health at risk, consider seeking treatment. With help you can finally get off the tightrope that puts you in danger.

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Richard Taite is founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, offering evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment based on the Stages of Change model. He is also coauthor with Constance Scharff of the book Ending Addiction for Good.

Richard Taite is CEO and founder of the Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center in Malibu, California and co-author of the book Ending Addiction for Good.

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