Adolescence is a time of great change. Young people need to renegotiate relationships with parents, friends, and the larger community and experiment with a variety of roles and responsibilities in new situations, to find out what their roles as young adults will be.
Adolescence is also a time to explore sexual identity and the different aspects of a sexual relationship. Commonly, this is also the time when many experiment with legal and illegal drugs.
So why is this dangerous? Why shouldn't teenagers experiment with drugs and alcohol? And how does this impact on decisions about sex?
Drug use tied to sexual activity
Teenage drug use and teenage sexual activity are connected in a variety of ways. Firstly, bigger risk takers are more likely to use drugs and be sexually active from a young age. These young people are often less cautious and do not use condoms or contraception, and often have many sexual partners, therewith increasing the risk of HIV infection.
Drug use affects judgment – so someone who is drunk or high is more likely to make bad decisions about who to sleep with, when to have sex, and is less likely to take precautions to have safe sex. Studies bear this out – adolescents who have used marijuana are four times more likely to have been pregnant or to have gotten someone pregnant than teenagers who never smoked dagga.
Drug and alcohol use also makes it more likely that the user will be in a situation where sex is forced upon them, for several reasons. Someone who is drunk or high can't make decisions about whether a situation is safe or not. Other people may see them as easy prey.
Also, intoxicated persons may not be able to defend themselves against unwanted advances or may not even be able to say no. Lastly, someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol may use sex as a means of income to get more of their fix.
Sex affects how/what people use
Sex also affects how and what someone may use. It may increase the need for substances if it was a bad experience – for example if it was non-consensual, or the person feels guilty, they may use drugs to make themselves feel better or to forget. A vicious cycle can be set up, where the person gets high, has unwanted sex, later feels down, gets high again to feel better, has another unwanted experience and so it continues.
As most people know, sexual risk behavior has many consequences. These can range from unwanted pregnancies to getting HIV. But even if this doesn't happen, a bad sexual experience stays with a person for a long time and may affect their future relationships and ability to enjoy sex.
Taken together, everything we know shows that drugs and alcohol are best avoided, particularly in the context of any relationship where sex may be involved.
Ultimately, everyone makes their own choices about when and with whom to have sex and whether or not to use substances. However, when one looks at the consequences of using substances, I'm sure you'll agree that sex, drugs and alcohol just don't mix. – (Dr Bavi Vythilingum)