UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Differentiating the role of alcohol in young men’s use of substances with sex: A qualitative study Goodyear, Trevor; Oliffe, John Lindsay; Parent, Natasha; Mniszak, Caroline; Jenkins, Emily (Emily K.), 1981-; Knight, Rod E.


Background Alcohol consumption is common among young men and occurs in many contexts. The sexualized substance use literature has generated some insight into the role of alcohol alongside other substances in the context of sex, though there remain opportunities for targeted and context-sensitive studies to examine the sexual practices and outcomes associated with alcohol, specifically. Methods This interpretive description study explores how experiences and contexts of alcohol use feature in the sexual lives of young men who use substances with sex. Data collection involved in-depth interviews conducted between 2018 and 2021 in Vancouver, Canada, with N = 76 young men (ages 18–30; mean = 23.9 years) who use substances with sex, including men with diverse sexual identities. Data were analyzed in an iterative manner through a social constructivist lens and an interpretive description framework, leveraging constant comparison techniques. Findings This analysis yielded three interconnected themes: (1) using alcohol for sexual(ity) freedoms; (2) backgrounding alcohol within a sexualized polysubstance milieu; and (3) navigating the risks and consequences of using alcohol with sex. Alcohol use was found to reduce inhibitions and support experimentation, including by facilitating the transgression of conservative or restrictive social and sexual norms. Alcohol was seldom explicitly classified as a sexualized substance, though it was evidently a widespread and normative social practice. This practice was associated with important risk and consequences, including with respect to consent, pregnancy and sexually transmitted and bloodborne infection risk, and sexual dysfunction. Conclusions Findings from this study position alcohol as a backgrounded yet significantly influential substance that young men use with sex. The sexualized use of substances must be understood, and responded to, in a manner that is grounded in harm reduction and that considers the full spectrum of substances—inclusive of but not limited to alcohol—and associated benefits and risks that feature in young men’s sexual lives. Specifically, sexual health and primary care providers working with young men should invite and open up meaningful conversation about how they may be using substances (including alcohol) with sex, while offering de-stigmatizing, sex-positive, and affirming education and supports to promote safer sex and substance use.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)