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Alcohol Use and Sexual Risk Behaviour

A number of patterns of interaction exist between alcohol use and sexual risk taking. This is one of the findings of the WHO study 'Alcohol Use and Sexual Risk Behaviour: A Cross-Cultural Study in Eight Countries'. This has implications for prevention programmes, both in the alcohol and in the hiv/aids field.

Dag Endal

This report from WHO was published in 2005. The first part of the report is a literature study where available material on hiv/aids and alcohol use has been reviewed. The literature study was complemented with empirical studies. Eight countries were involved in the project: Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, Belarus, Romania, the Russian Federation, India and Mexico.

In explaining the background for the research project the authors say that alcohol use has been shown to increase high-risk sexual behaviour and that risk behaviour accounts for a large number of the opportunities for acquiring HIV infection. The purpose of the study was to understand these mechanisms better, eg. to identify factors related to alcohol-use related sexual risk behaviour.

The identified key patterns of interaction between alcohol use and sexual behaviour were related to the following issues:

  1. The construction of maleness in terms of alcohol use;
  2. A denial and neglect of risk as a way of coping with life;
  3. The use of alcohol-serving venues as contact places for sexual encounters;
  4. The use of alcohol at/during (first) sexual encounters;
  5. The promotion of alcohol use in pornographic material.

In the literature review these issues emerged as important:

  • Myths and norms about “masculinity”;
  • A lack of clear and firm alcohol-related policies;
  • Increasing HIV prevalence and a need to augment prevention efforts;
  • The interwovenness of alcohol use, sexual risk behaviours and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV;
  • The effect of modernization and the media on the youth, which manifests in early drinking, early sexual activity and increasing vulnerability to risk behaviours;
  • A paucity of research data on alcohol and sexual risk behaviours.

The study concludes that the link between alcohol consumption, sexual behaviour and HIV infection is complex. And that the findings of the study has implications for prevention programmes for harm related alcohol use and also harm related to sexual risk behaviour including HIV/AIDS.

The report can be ordered from the WHO online book shop.



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