Alcohol and Your Sex Life: Does It Help or Hurt?

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Booze is a go-to substance for socializing, meaning people use it for everything from casual hangouts to exciting hookups. But how exactly do alcohol and sex interact? Does alcohol make sex better, or does it ultimately take away from the experience?

Read on for everything you need to know about alcohol and sex, including how it affects men and women, common myths, and risks to know about.

How Alcohol Affects Sex

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

Alcohol’s effects on sex are complicated, to say the least. While many people feel that it helps them relax before jumping into a love-making session, it can sometimes create a disconnect between the mind and body. So, how does alcohol affect sex drive, arousal, and performance as a whole?

To answer these questions, here are some of the ways that alcohol can affect men and women differently:

Impacts on Women

Both sexes may find that drinking impacts their libido and performance. But how does alcohol affect a woman sexually? In short, it may cause:

Difficulty Reaching Orgasm

If you have female biology, too much alcohol may slow down your ability to reach orgasm. This is because alcohol can decrease vaginal blood flow, despite the fact that it might boost your desire mentally.1 As a result, it can be tougher to reach orgasm. And when you do, it may not be as intense as usual.

Contradicting Effects on Mental and Physical Arousal

For many women, having a drink or two helps boost desire by increasing feelings of attractiveness (and attraction to others). It may also help lower sexual inhibitions and calm your nerves before the act.

At the same time, research has shown that alcohol can have the opposite effect physically.2 If you drink too much, it can decrease physical arousal and vaginal response to sexual stimuli.

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Impacts on Men

Drinking might feel like a great icebreaker when you’re on a first date. But how does alcohol affect a man sexually? 

It Can Slow Down—Or Speed Up—Ejaculation

Depending on the dose (and individual), research has shown that alcohol can delay ejaculation, likely due to the fact that it can reduce blood flow and sensitivity in the genitals.3 On the other hand, it can also cause premature ejaculation (reaching orgasm sooner than you’d like to) for some men.

It Can Make It Harder to Maintain an Erection

Not only does drinking impact ejaculation, it can also affect your ability to get and maintain an erection. While occasional, light drinking may not cause any issues, a 2021 meta-analysis found that heavy drinking was associated with erectile dysfunction.4

Risks of Combining Sex and Alcohol

Beyond sexual dysfunction, there are plenty of other risks that can come with mixing drinking and sex. These include:

  • Poor decision making. Alcohol can slow down cognition, meaning you may be more likely to make poor decisions—including those involving sex—while intoxicated.
  • Unsafe sex. People who are drinking are much more likely to engage in risky sex.5
  • Lack of consent/assault. Alcohol is not the cause of sexual assault, but assault is more likely to happen in situations where people are drinking.

Myths About Alcohol and Sex

Here are some of the most common myths surrounding alcohol and sex:

couple drinking coffee in bed
Photo by Jeremy Banks on Unsplash

Does Drinking Make You Better in Bed?

You might think that you’re better in bed with the confidence of alcohol, but this isn’t always the case.

While one or two drinks may lower your anxiety levels, too many can hinder your physical performance and make it harder to connect with your partner intimately.

Are “Beer Goggles” a Thing? 

Have you ever wondered if beer goggles are real? The answer is yes. Alcohol can lead you to you finding people, landscapes, and just about everything else more attractive than you usually would.6

So, why does this happen? One theory behind this is that alcohol can decrease your ability to notice asymmetry in faces, which is a key factor in how humans perceive attractiveness.

Can Drinking Boost Your Confidence?

Because alcohol can make you feel more friendly and open, many people use it as a form of liquid courage. And sometimes, a drink or two might feel like it really can give you a short-term confidence boost.

However, alcohol’s effects on confidence are fleeting, and it may even harm your self-esteem in the long run. And if you start depending on booze to connect with others, you might feel more shy or anxious in settings when you’re not drinking.

Can Drunk Sex Ever Be Consensual?

It’s generally accepted that consent must be reversible, specific, informed, enthusiastic, and freely given, according to Planned Parenthood.7 So, that begs the question: Can sex while intoxicated ever be consensual?

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

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 consent 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 decisions8

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 key.9 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.

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:
Alicia Schultz
Alicia is a Minnesota-based freelancer who writes for Ria Health and various other brands in the health and wellness space. Beyond addiction and recovery, she also covers topics relating to general well-being, mindfulness, fitness, mental health, and more. When she’s not writing, you can find her relaxing with her three-legged cat, trying new workout routines, and spending time with her loved ones.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.

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