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Studying Drunken Promiscuity at Mardi Gras

• February 14, 2010 • 5:00 AM

In this edition of ‘Wonks Gone Wild,’ researchers find that men overrated, and women underrated, the likelihood that they would participate in sexual activities with a new partner at Mardi Gras.

Not surprisingly, researcher Craig Forsyth found alcohol consumption plays a role in the decision to parade one’s private parts, and a lot of alcohol is consumed during Mardi Gras. According to a survey of 2004 attendees reported in the Journal of Sex Research, “68 percent of the men and 63 percent of the women reported having at least five or six drinks per sitting. Almost one-quarter of the men reported having at least 16 drinks per sitting; 15 percent of women reported the same.”

The survey, by Robin Milhausen of the University of Windsor, Canada, found 32 percent of those surveyed reported engaging in vaginal sex with someone they met at Mardi Gras. “Although expectations (of sexual activity) varied by gender, there were no significant gender differences when actual sexual behaviors at Mardi Gras were assessed,” the paper states. “While men appeared to have overrated the likelihood that they would participate in certain sexual activities with a new partner at Mardi Gras, women tended to underrate the likelihood of the same.”


New Orleans’ annual Mardi Gras celebration has attracted a parade of social scientists over the years. For more on the scholarship inspired by the provocatively licentious pre-Lenten festival, check out in the coming days:
The History of Mardi Gras Beadwhores
Unmasking Mardi Gras Deviants
The Evolution of Mardi Gras Rituals (Feb. 15)


The “sexual risk-taking” Milhausen found among straight festivalgoers also occurred among gay men, according to a 2007 paper in the Journal of Community Health. A survey taken in “the gay-oriented section of the French Quarter” during the 2005 Mardi Gras found nearly half of sexually active gay men reported having sex with a partner of unknown HIV status during the festival. The surveyed men were from 23 states and 92 different ZIP codes, which gives some idea of how easily HIV infections that occurred in New Orleans could spread.

These men were well educated (89 percent had at least some college education) and well informed about how HIV is transmitted. However, “They were less likely to know that New Orleans is a relatively high HIV prevalence area,” the paper notes. “Interventions directed at tourists in New Orleans and similar locations may benefit from heightening travelers’ awareness of the local HIV rates.” Then again, does that sort of information really stick in one’s mind after the eighth or ninth drink?

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Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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