Cocaine users more likely to engage in unprotected and unsafe sex

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A study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University confirmed that cocaine users face a greater likelihood to engage in unprotected sex and have greater sexual impulses and sexual desire. Previously, scientists linked cocaine use to risky sexual behavior that promoted the risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

For this study, researchers invited 15 healthy cocaine users to participate, of which the results of only 12 were recorded and used in conclusions.

Researchers attracted healthy, regular cocaine users through advertisements in newspapers, on the radio and on the internet in Baltimore, Maryland. Each applicant faced an initial interview medical examination and screening to determine his or her state of health. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 45 years old.

Researchers only considered the pool of applicants who fell into the standard of cocaine addiction as defined by the researchers prior to the beginning of the study. To screen for a control, applicants also stated whether they had both protected sex using a condom and unprotected sex at least once in their lifetime. Other applicants excluded from participating in the study exhibited signs of prior mental illness, cardiovascular disease or other medical disorders.

After having selected the participants, researchers enforced a no-drug and no-alcohol policy for 24 hours so that no other influences conflicted with the results of the experiment.

Scientists then measured sexual desire and sexual decision making in each participant under the influence of different doses of cocaine. Sexual decision making refers to the thought of using a condom during sexual intercourse.

Scientists also measured “delay discounting,” which refers to “a behavioral process whereby delaying an event reduces its value.” In order to measure and account for delay discounting, each participant selected photographs of hypothetical sexual partners.

From this selection of photos, participants were asked to rate how likely they were to have immediate unprotected sex as opposed to delayed protected sex with the individual shown in the photo. This study, along with previous studies, has verified that the desire to have immediate unprotected sex increases as the level of attractiveness increases in individuals shown in photos.

Cocaine users are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior that leads to contracting HIV and other diseases. Photo by: Calvin Rong

Researchers broke up the study into sessions in which participants took different doses of cocaine in order to simulate the answers to different queries and hypothetical scenarios.

During each session, the respective participants were shown the selected photograph. The participants were then instructed to read a short description of a hypothetical sexual scenario with the person in the photo. The participant then assessed how high his or her sexual desire was from zero to 100 while staring at the photo and after reading the selection.

Researchers then asked the participants to determine the likelihood that they would use a condom in the same hypothetical scenario, if a condom were readily available for use. Participants referred to the same zero to 100 scale to describe the likelihood of using a condom.

The study concluded that “Seven delays were examined in separated scales: 2 min, 5 min, 15 min, 30 min, 1 h, 3 h, and 6 h. These delays are shorter than those in previous studies.” Since the study controlled for the amount of cocaine orally taken by participants prior to making these decisions, the results surmise that cocaine causes greater sexual impulse, such as the decision to not use a condom if one were not readily available.

To compare the act of impatience, researchers also asked the participants if they would rather have a small sum of money today or $100 a week from now while they were under the influence of cocaine. The researchers found that participants exhibited no difference in the willingness to wait between trials when they received cocaine and trials in which they did not. This indicates that the impatience was solely directed toward sexual intercourse rather than other pleasures, such as gaining money.

During sessions when cocaine was administered in higher doses, participants indicated a stronger sexual desire for the individuals whose photograph they had selected.

However, participants did not report significantly lower likelihoods of using an available condom for the hypothetical sexual encounter when they were given a dose of 250 mg of cocaine as opposed to a placebo. The difference was negligible, at 0.2 percent, which suggests that just the knowledge or anticipation of having consumed cocaine can heighten sexual desire.

Researchers discussed that the results of this study may be pivotal to understanding how drugs, like cocaine, affect an individual’s sexual desires and choices. This study was the first experiment that measured sexual desire and sexual decision-making in terms of cocaine consumption.

It is also the first study to suggest a correlation between the amount of cocaine consumed and the decision to use a condom during a sexual encounter while under the influence.