How Does Alcohol Affect Your Sex Life?

Last Updated on May 31, 2021

Many people drink to loosen up, relax, and socialize. And because of this, it’s no surprise that alcohol and sex are often intertwined. With your inhibitions lowered and your anxiety eased, you may even feel like a drink or two leads to better sex.

But what does booze really do to your sex life? Is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Below, we’ll dive into the myths of alcohol and sex, and if drinking is really necessary for a happy sex life.

Alcohol & Your Libido

two women in bed, alcohol and sex
Photo by Mahrael Boutros on Unsplash

When it comes to alcohol and sex, there are some mysteries surrounding its effects on one’s libido.

In the moment, booze may give you the anxiety relief you need to jump into a love-making session. But there are downsides. While drinking may increase subjective sexual arousal1, it can also change the way your body responds to sex—no matter where your mind is at.

Alcohol’s Effects on Men

Research2 has shown that alcohol-dependent men are more likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction. This includes low sexual desire, premature ejaculation, and even erectile dysfunction.

For some men, these side effects can be disheartening and even downright embarrassing. Luckily, you can avoid these issues (and save your happy sex life!) by limiting your alcohol intake to a few drinks per week.

Alcohol’s Effects on Women

Alcohol use can affect women’s reproductive health in several ways, one being decreased vaginal lubrication3. Beyond that, a study from 20164 found that alcohol-dependent women may struggle with decreased sexual desire and the inability to reach orgasm.

If you’re a woman, this can put a serious damper on your time in the bedroom. And similarly to men, you can alleviate these consequences by reducing your alcohol intake.

Does Drinking Really Make You Better in Bed?

One of the most common myths of alcohol and sex is that it will make you better in bed.

Yes, you might feel like a drink can loosen you up before you fool around with someone. But does it really make the sex better?

Here are some factors that play into whether alcohol can help or hurt your sexual performance:

Alcohol Can Reduce Sex-Related Anxiety

On the positive side, a drink or two can limit the anxiety you might experience while getting intimate. And if you enjoy casual drinking, this could work well for you.

With higher confidence and lower inhibitions, light drinking might even make for a great time in the bedroom. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that problems can arise if you find yourself drinking too much or too often.

Drinking Too Much Can Lead to Sexual Dysfunction

As mentioned above, too much alcohol can negatively impact physical arousal for both women5 and men6. This can leave your mind in a different state than your body—making sex less satisfying, or even frustrating.

Of course, light, occasional drinking may not have this same effect. If you pay attention to your drinking patterns, and how your body responds, you can generally consume small amounts of alcohol and still have a healthy sex life.

Can Drunk Sex Ever Be Consensual?

couple kissing in street, alcohol and sex
Photo by Arun Anoop on Unsplash

It’s generally accepted that consent must be reversible, specific, informed, enthusiastic, and freely given, according to Planned Parenthood7. So, that begs the question: Can sex while intoxicated ever be consensual?

It’s impractical to expect that couples won’t ever want to have sex while drinking together. That said, there are important things to consider about consensual sex when alcohol is involved.

Pay Attention to How Intoxicated You Both Are

There’s a big difference between being a little “buzzed,” and being incapacitated by alcohol. The territory in between exists on a spectrum, and consent becomes more difficult to give the more you’ve been drinking.

A person is definitively intoxicated beyond the point of consent8 if they:

  • Cannot communicate clearly (i.e., incoherent speaking, beyond just slurred words)
  • Can’t walk without assistance
  • Seem confused about basic information
  • Are unconscious or asleep
  • Are unable to make rational, informed decisions

If neither of you are intoxicated to this point, informed and enthusiastic consent might be possible. But it might also not be. If you in any way doubt you or your partner’s ability to make informed choices, or correctly assess the other’s state, it’s best to wait until you’ve both sobered up.

Ask for Continuous Consent

In the case that both you and your partner are able to consent, continuing to check in is key9. Consent is reversible, and a person’s feelings about an encounter may change as time passes—especially if they are intoxicated.

It’s important to give and receive specific consent for every part of sex. You should watch out for your partner’s verbal and nonverbal cues, including their body language.

With continuous consent and moderate consumption, however, it’s possible for sex after drinking to be pleasurable and safe for each person involved.

Is Drinking Really Necessary While You’re Dating?

couple drinking coffee in bed
Photo by Jeremy Banks on Unsplash

Alcohol is a favorite ice-breaker when it comes to dating. But is it really necessary when you’re meeting someone new?

The truth is, if you’re looking for genuine connections, you may want to leave the alcohol out—at least most of the time.

Alcohol can make you view others as more attractive10. As a result, you may mistakenly believe you are more attracted to your date than you really are (or vice versa.) A connection forged while drunk can therefore feel different when you wake up sober the next day.

That’s not to say one should never drink while dating. But overall, skipping the booze will give you a truer feel for the person sitting across from you—beyond just the tipsy banter and flirtatious looks.

The Takeaway on Alcohol and Sex

In summary, while light drinking can sometimes give you that extra “spark,” alcohol can negatively affect your sex life when you drink too much or too often. Alcohol dependence is linked to sexual dysfunction, not to mention that being too intoxicated can make you or your partner unable to consent to sex

So, it’s possible to have a healthy, fulfilling sex life while enjoying moderate amounts of alcohol from time to time. But it’s very important to watch your limits, and be aware of how drinking is affecting you and your partner.

More Resources

If alcohol is causing problems in your life, and you’re struggling to cut back, there are new, online ways to get help. Ria Health offers professional medical support, weekly coaching meetings, anti-craving medications, and more—all from an app on your smartphone.

Get in touch with a member of our team today, or learn more about how it works.

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Written By:
Minnesota-based freelancer and health advocate who aims to empower others through her work.
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