Intoxication Increases Sexual Aggression in Men with History of Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is believed to be cyclical. Men and women who have survived CSA tend to repeat the cycle of abuse by either experiencing the negative symptoms of abuse or by becoming perpetrators themselves. Men in particular, are at an increased risk for committing acts of sexual abuse or sexual aggression as a result of being abused in childhood. The majority of studies examining this dynamic focus on CSA and childhood physical abuse as precursors for aggressive behavior, but few have looked at how alcohol abuse, a common issue that CSA survivors struggle with, influences these behaviors. In college and high school students, sexual abuse and aggression are often coupled with alcohol intoxication. Many of these assaults are committed without condom use, which increases the number of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Understanding how alcohol misuse and CSA affect a man’s sexual intentions could help clinicians and social outreach programs design prevention efforts aimed at decreasing sexually aggressive behaviors in these survivors.

Kelly Cue Davis of the School of Social Work at the University of Washington conducted an experiment involving 220 male college students who were provided a high- or low-dose alcohol condition or a placebo. After they consumed the alcohol, the men read a sexual storyline in which a female (Kim) refused to engage in sex without a condom. Davis discovered that although there was no direct link between CSA and aggression, the men who had survived CSA (18.4%) did believe they were entitled to have sex with Kim, regardless of her protests. These same men also had distorted perceptions of her arousal and willingness after they consumed alcohol. In fact, as the men’s perceptions of Kim’s arousal increased, their level of sexual aggression and intention to have unprotected sex with her, despite her protests, also increased. Overall, this study highlights the need for transforming cognitive and behavioral patterns in men who have survived CSA. In addition, addressing alcohol consumption in these men as well as the distorted thinking could help reduce their sexually aggressive behaviors. Davis added, “Improving our understanding of the pathways through which a history of CSA, as well as alcohol intoxication, may contribute to men’s engagement in nonconsensual, unprotected sexual behavior could greatly enhance sexual health education and intervention efforts for both men and women.”

Davis, K. C., Schraufnagel, T. J., Jacques-Tiura, A. J., Norris, J., George, W. H., & Kiekel, P. A. (2012). Childhood Sexual Abuse and Acute Alcohol Effects on Men’s Sexual Aggression Intentions. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027185

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  • yao

    March 1st, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    seriously, we didn’t know this?

  • Brenda

    March 1st, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    This is yet another study that confirms what all of us have known for a very long time, and that is that the things that happen to us as a child tend to follow us around as very heavy baggage for the rest of our lives and in many cases are going to be further exacerbated by the use of alcohol. This is in no way offering up an excuse for this type of behavior, as there is a point in our early adult lives where we have to own up and take responsibility for our actions. But it does offer us a small explanation of what could be going on and give us some food for thought as to how to stop this kind of behavior before it continues and harms yet another victim.

  • Zach

    March 2nd, 2012 at 6:48 PM

    Drinking does crazy things to even the sanest bird. Add some past sexual issues that the perp already has, and that it a big recipe for disaster. You can’t expect a substance that alters your mind and brain functioning to be ok to use by someone who already is dealing with a past that is less than shiny and new. Probably not the best idea for someone who knows just how easy it could be for him to lose control.

  • wesley

    March 3rd, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    There are those who get real laid back when they drink and others who just get flat out mean. They don’t mean it but the drink just does something to them that they can’t stop Of course the solution is for thme to not pick it up but we know that in certain social settings that is harder than it sounds.

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