Is Alcohol Depressing Your Sex Life?

sex and alcohol
sex and alcohol

A drink or two can blur the sharp edges of life a bit, helping to relieve stress, anxiety, and self-consciousness. This may sound like a few drinks can lead to a relaxed and steamy night in. After all, stress and anxiety aren’t exactly turn-ons. In fact, in both men and women, stress hormones don’t play well with sex hormones and can actually keep you from getting or staying in the mood. So it may be easier to feel sexy and initiate sexual encounters after a drink or two, but does alcohol actually make for a more satisfying experience?

That depends on how much you’re drinking. If it’s more than a couple of drinks, alcohol probably isn’t helping you out in the bedroom. Alcohol affects the entire body, not just our inhibitions. Research has shown that alcohol does lower inhibitions, but it simultaneously suppresses the body’s ability to function sexually. Lower doses do more of the former, and higher doses do more of the latter.

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And you know the way that alcohol seems to stomp on your doubts and make you more sexually confident? According to research, that’s only partly the alcohol affecting your brain. The rest of it is the placebo effect – we expect alcohol to make us feel relaxed and sexier…so it does. When people are convinced by researchers that they’re intoxicated, they become more confident and aggressive.

And how about the idea that alcohol simply frees your inner sexual self? Many researchers think this is actually something called alcohol myopia – the idea that when you drink, you may think that you’re able to be your “real self” but you’re actually just significantly cognitively impaired, only able to process a few thoughts at once. In other words, when you’re drunk you don’t have the mental real estate for stressful, depressing, or inhibiting thoughts. You’re too busy thinking about how to talk like someone who can still feel their lips.

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And that same impairment may make it difficult to have sex that is satisfying (and safe) for both of you. Not only may you be unable to process cues from your partner, but research has shown that people who have been drinking are more likely to engage in risky behavior, including unsafe sex. It takes a certain presence of mind to juggle issues like protection and consent during a sexual encounter.

Alcohol also depresses the central nervous system, affecting respiration, circulation, and the sensitivity of nerve endings in ways that can really put a damper on sex. Large doses of alcohol also lead to dehydration, which can be uncomfortable and impact sexual performance. Dehydration lowers blood volume and directly impacts a man’s ability to get and sustain an erection.

You may also have trouble reaching orgasm, especially if you drink heavily. This effect is potent enough that sometimes alcohol is recommended to men as a treatment for premature ejaculation. But since as many as 1 in 3 women may have trouble orgasming when sober, drinking can make sex a frustrating experience for women. Like most things, alcohol is best consumed moderately. A drink each day for women and up to two drinks a day for men is considered moderate drinking, and it may even have a few health benefits.

A drink or two can help you relax and feel more comfortable about sex, but more than that may do more harm than good for your sex life. And if you start ordering water after your first few drinks, you’ll get an early start on rehydrating. Not only will you feel significantly better the next morning, but you’ll be able to fully focus on and enjoy the time you spend with your partner, an experience you’ll both appreciate.