Drinking has long been associated with sex and seduction. Often it takes a few drinks before we feel brave enough to approach someone, bars are a common setting for getting to know a new date, and it’s hard to picture a romantic dinnerwithout a bottle of wine (or two!) involved. Throughout time and across many different cultures, alcohol is treated as a powerful aphrodisiac; a substance that increases sexual desire.
So how does alcohol affect your sex life?
Although we often think of drinking getting us powered up, alcohol actually acts as a “depressant”. This is a substance that slows down the functions of the body. Whilst many people describe feeling more turned on when they drink, this is likely to be due to alcohol slowing parts of the brain involved in worry and inhibition. When we’re drinking the part of our mind that monitors our behaviour and weighs up the consequences before we act is dulled
For many people, lack of confidence, insecurities and other worries can get in the way of making a move and fully enjoying sex. When we drink, these nagging thoughts get dampened down. We often feel more attractive and there’s less holding us back. Sounds great, right? Well, not necessarily. Whilst a little alcohol can make you feel more relaxed, regular high intake can actually have a negative effect on sexual ability. Here are a few of the ways that drinking can impact on sex.
- Alcohol can lead to a lower level of arousal
It’s well known that alcohol can make it difficult to get and keep an erection. The erection is caused by blood rushing into the penis, causing the tissue to swell up. Alcohol actually reduces this blood flow, so the penis might not become hard enough for penetrative sex. For most men this situation is temporary and improves with a little sobering up. However, long-term excessive drinking runs the risk of full blown erectile dysfunction developing. Smoking also increases risk of erectile difficulties, so if you’re more likely to reach for a packet after a few pints this may be worth keeping in mind!
Although many women describe feeling more turned on when drinking, research suggests alcohol can lead to a lower level of arousal. This might make sex less comfortable or pleasurable. Alcohol also reduces our ability to co-ordinate our bodies. This could lead to a level of clumsinessthat limits sexual technique and makes it difficult to be attentive to your partner.
- Alcohol might affect your ability to last longer in bed
Due to its depressant qualities, alcohol reduces sensation all over the body. For men who worry about lasting long enough in bed, drinking can appear to offer a solution. Sensitivity is reduced, so sex can feel less intense. While this could work for some men, it might make things worse for others. Drinking makes you disconnect from your body, which in turn might make it more difficult for you to control your orgasm. And whilst for some this method can be successful in the short-term, using alcohol to numb the penis is likely to make sex less pleasurable overall.
If lasting longer is a concern, there are more effective ways than drinking to last longer in bed. There is plenty of advice out there that won’t also knock your performance and pleasure. Changing position, using thicker condoms or learning several effective techniques to delay ejaculation are a few of the ways you can improve your sex life without the next day hangover included.
- Alcohol can lead to some questionable decisions
When we drink we’re more impulsive. Whilst this can be great for a bit of “living in the moment”, this may feel less positive when we wake up with the consequences of the night before. Judgement can be impaired and under the influence and we’re more likely to make questionable decisions. This could just mean a case of “beer goggles”, but the consequences could be more severe. Statistically we’re more likely to have unprotected sex when drinking and the majority of STIs are transmitted when alcohol is involved.
Once you’re beyond a certain level of drunkenness, it’s very difficult to weigh up the pros and cons of having sex. This means that you can’t give fully informed consent to a partner. Ability to communicate is also reduced, so you might misread a partner’s behaviour and this could lead to sex taking place that isn’t what both partners really want. Beyond having sex that you later regret, a high number of sexual assaults occur in situations where alcohol was involved.
Improving your sex life without drinking
Whilst a little alcohol might make us more relaxed and flirty, heavy drinking causes far more sexual problems that it solves. If sex brings up anxiety we can come to rely on drinking and forget how to have sober sex. If it’s hard to remember the last time you had sex without a drink, it may be time to think about addressing some of the underlying issues.
If for you sex and drinking go hand in hand, it may be difficult to think about cutting it out completely. You may want to consider starting to reduce the amount you drink before sex, so you can see what is possible without the alcohol. It may be helpful to recognise which negative thoughts are showing up for you and whether you can work through these with a supportive partner.
In addition to how alcohol can interfere with sex in the moment, high alcohol use over time is likely to lead to weight-gain, increased blood pressure and increased risk of a number of serious health conditions. If you regularly drink a lot, cutting back may improve your sex life now, but also increase the chance of you having a healthy sex life for many more years to come.
Balancing drinking and sex
Many of us enjoy a drink and having sex after drinking needn’t necessarily be a problem. Provided you know the risks, keep an eye on how much you drink and don’t rely on alcohol to enjoy your sex life, there’s no reason to completely drop the habit. It’s important to find a balance between enjoying a drink and still being physically and mentally able to engage in the sex that you want. With a bit of forward thinking alcohol can be a part of your lifestyle without getting in the way of your sex life.
Dr. Alexandra Richards is clinical psychologist with a specialist interest in sexual health, medically unexplained symptoms, and neuropsychology. She serves as a professional consultant for the Between Us Clinic, which provides sex-therapy online programs for men and couples experiencing premature ejaculation.