On men, women, alcohol and sex

ATLANTA -- All the talk about drinking during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing was troubling on several fronts, but chief among them is the fact that alcohol consumption lowers inhibitions and can heighten libido.

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Gracie Bonds Staples
, Cox Newspapers

ATLANTA -- All the talk about drinking during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing was troubling on several fronts, but chief among them is the fact that alcohol consumption lowers inhibitions and can heighten libido.

Had it not been for an email from Julia Lundstrem, one of nearly two dozen I received in response to a column I wrote early last month about Kavanaugh's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, I might have missed the chance to help someone about to go through something similar.

"I agree that sexual assault is egregious, and especially so in gang rape situations," Lundstrem wrote. "My stomach twists and turns when I hear those stories. However, I would like to remind all women ... that drinking and taking drugs is dangerous, and especially so if one is contemplating driving or being in male company."

It occurred to me reading her email that maybe this was the perfect time to remind young women in particular of this fact.

According to A. J. Marsden, an assistant professor of psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, at least 50 percent of college students' sexual assaults involve alcohol. Research dating back to 1988 shows that 74 percent of the perpetrators and 55 percent of the rape victims had consumed alcohol.

Less than 10 years later, similar research found that 55 percent of sexual assaults involved alcohol consumption, and in 97 percent of those assaults, both the victim and perpetrator had consumed alcohol. A similar relationship was noted again in 2015.

"It is important to note that although there is a strong relationship between alcohol consumption and sexual assault, one does not cause the other," Marsden said. "Correlation does not indicate causation. Many people assume after hearing these statistics that alcohol causes sexual assault. Sadly, the direction could just as easily be in the opposite direction."

For instance, she said, it may be that someone might unconsciously or even consciously consume alcohol prior to sexually assaulting someone else in order to have an excuse for the behavior. Or more realistically, it may be that drinking alcohol is highly correlated with certain personality traits, such as impulsivity.

Impulsive individuals are more likely to drink. Interestingly, perpetrators of sexual assault also report high levels of impulsivity -- with perpetrators who consumed alcohol reporting the highest levels of impulsivity. It could also be a combination of these two factors.

Lundstrem, an elementary school teacher and mother of three, knows this from personal experience.

She was 17 when she left Atlanta for the first time to attend the University of Virginia. Although the legal drinking age was 18, she drank alcohol at a party and learned very quickly she "could drink only a very small amount before she was no longer in control" of herself.

When a student advisor invited her to his room, Lundstrem followed but soon realized it was not a good situation.

"He was good looking but didn't have good intentions at that moment," she recalled recently. "I just said goodbye, and I left."

Lundstrem said her sorority warned members not to be a part of compromising, dangerous situations.

"It is very easy to end up in an unfortunate situation. I personally know," she wrote. "Both men and women must make the right decisions when confronted with the choice to drink or take drugs. Irresponsible alcohol or drug consumption and good decision-making are mutually exclusive."

When my daughters went off to college, that was among the many warnings I gave them. Don't drink, but if you do, never drink from a glass you've left with even your best friend. Shy away from pre-marital sex, but if you do, please protect yourself with a condom.

Christine Blasey Ford, you may or may not recall, wasn't even in college when she says Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her in 1982.

She was a 15-year-old in high school.

During testimony, Ford recalled how Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, who'd been drinking, shoved her into a bedroom at a high school party. Kavanaugh held her down on the bed as he attempted to remove her clothing.

Kavanaugh denied the allegations and now, right or wrong, sits on the Supreme Court.

Lundstrem wasn't objecting to the column I wrote but wanted to emphasize the adverse role that alcohol and drug consumption often plays in sexual assault cases.

She hadn't thought about the incident with her college advisor in more than 45 years.

"I was one of the lucky ones," she said. "Women be forewarned, and make good decisions."

And men, you too.

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