Objective: To estimate the prevalence of potentially harmful sexual experiences attributed to drinking in university students, their association with current drinking, and the influence of past high school binge drinking and age at first drink. Method: A web-based survey of undergraduates on six university campuses in New Zealand (n=2,548; response rate 63%) measured self-reported alcohol consumption and harms from own or others' drinking in the preceding four weeks, previous binge drinking and age of drinking onset. Results: Among drinkers during the four weeks, 5% of women and 8% of men reported unsafe sex due to drinking, 3% of women and 4% of men had sex they were unhappy about at the time, and 8% of women and 9% of men had sex they later regretted. Unwanted sexual advances due to someone else's drinking affected 21% of women and 12% of men, with 0.5% of both men and women reporting sexual assault. Current level of drinking was positively associated with all outcomes, but most strongly with unsafe sex. Binge drinking at high school and early drinking onset were also associated with each outcome, and only partly explained by current drinking. Conclusion: Unsafe, unhappy and unwanted sexual experiences attributed to drinking are common at university and associated with heavier drinking, previous high school binge drinking and early drinking onset. Implications: Despite an incomplete understanding of contributing causes, reduction in hazardous drinking among university students is likely to reduce risky and unwanted sexual experiences along with other alcohol-related harm. Strategies to reduce drinking at earlier ages are also warranted.
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health Vol. 34, Issue 5, p. 487-494