Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Public Health and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Gender differences in alcohol-related non-consensual sex; cross-sectional analysis of a student population

Clare Gunby1, Anna Carline1, Mark A Bellis2 and Caryl Beynon2*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Law, Liverpool John Moores University, John Foster Building, 98 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L3 5UZ, UK

2 Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, Henry Cotton Building, 15-21 Webster Street, Liverpool L3 2ET, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2012, 12:216  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-216

Published: 20 March 2012



Sexual offences are a global public health concern. Recent changes in the law in England and Wales have dramatically altered the legal landscape of sexual offences, but sexual assaults where the victim is voluntarily intoxicated by alcohol continue to have low conviction rates. Worldwide, students are high consumers of alcohol. This research aimed to compare male and female students in relation to their knowledge and attitudes about alcohol and sexual activity and to identify factors associated with being the victim of alcohol-related non-consensual sex.


1,110 students completed an online questionnaire. Drinking levels were measured using the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test. Non-consensual sexual experiences were measured using the Sexual Experience Survey. Univariate and multivariate analyses were undertaken using chi square and backwards stepwise logistic regression respectively.


A third of respondents had experienced alcohol-related non-consensual sex. Male and female students differed in the importance they gave to cues in deciding if a person wished to have sex with them and their understanding of the law of consent. 82.2% of women who had experienced alcohol-related non-consensual sex were hazardous drinkers compared to 62.9% who drank at lower levels (P < 0.001). Differences existed between men and women, and between those who had and had not experienced alcohol-related non-consensual sex, in relation to assessments of culpability in scenarios depicting alcohol-related intercourse. A third of respondents believed that a significant proportion of rapes were false allegations; significantly more men than women responded in this way.


Alcohol-related coerced sexual activity is a significant occurrence among students; attitudinal and knowledge differences between males and females may explain this. Educational messages that focus upon what is deemed acceptable sexual behaviour, the law and rape myths are needed but are set against a backdrop where drunkenness is commonplace.

Alcohol; Sex; Sexual assault; Law; Gender; AUDIT; Violence