Many people use alcohol to feel more relaxed and confident, but booze could be causing more harm than good in the bedroom.
Medically reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson and words by Paisley Gilmour
For many of us, alcohol and sex go hand in hand. Drinking one too many on a date for Dutch courage before you hit the bedroom is practically engrained in British culture. But is booze really adding to your enjoyment or could alcohol in fact be sabotaging your sex life?
We spoke to Mr Asif Muneer, consultant urologist and andrologist at The Wellington Hospital (part of HCA Healthcare UK) and Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist and clinical director of Private Therapy Clinic, about the heady relationship between sex and alcohol:
9 ways alcohol can sabotage your sex life
Drinking to excess is socially acceptable in the UK, so much so that date night often revolves around hitting a few bars before the evening even gets started. And then it’s perfectly normal to get blind drunk and wake up next to your date with no recollection of the night before.
But why do we rely so heavily on drink to participate in bedroom fun? ‘Sex can make some people anxious, depending on their background and past experiences,’ says Dr Spelman. ‘Particularly where trauma has occurred, alcohol is often used as a way of coping with sexual activity. Men can also often have performance-related anxiety which they deal with by drinking.’
But while enjoying a few too many tequilas can ruin date night or at the very least make it a bit hazy, the negative effects of alcohol excess can be considerably more detrimental to your sex life than you might realise.
In moderation, a drink or two can oil the wheels and make sex a more enjoyable experience for all parties involved. But what if you need to drink yourself into oblivion every single time you get laid? If you use alcohol as a crutch to ease your pre-date nerves, you are putting yourself at risk of becoming dependent on booze.
‘There is a tendency to become reliant on alcohol every time you have sex and there are far safer ways of dealing with anxiety and your emotions rather than reaching for alcohol,’ says Cichi. If you’re really anxious about meeting new people, consider therapy or working on your self-esteem before hitting the bottle.
- Loss of libido
While a few drinks will loosen you up and put you in the mood for sex, long-term drinking is associated with reduced sex drive and libido in men, women and people of all genders. So if you start to lose your desire to get intimate with a significant other or go off the idea of dating completely, it could be connected to your alcohol consumption and it might be time to cut back on the booze.
‘Alcohol is a depressant and therefore it can actually reduce your desire for sex rather than boost it,’ Cichi says. ‘Alcohol negatively affects blood circulation, nerves, and respiration which are all needed for sexual arousal and function. It’s the effects on the heart and blood circulation which is particularly important when it comes to sexual function.’
- Erectile dysfunction
If you enjoy a drink on a night out, most men and people with penises will have experienced a flaccid member during a pivotal sexual moment. You might have marked it up to nerves, but erectile dysfunction is a common sexual issue associated with alcohol and left unchecked it can start to get serious.
As Muneer points out, there is some truth in the saying ‘alcohol increases the desire but reduces the performance. While moderate alcohol consumption can reduce inhibitions and make you feel more confident, this is ‘often at the expense of interfering with the erection centre in the brain and reducing the ability to gain and sustain an erection,’ says Muneeer. So if you want to ensure you can sustain an erection all night long, it’s worth watching your alcohol intake, or sticking to soft drinks.
- Cardiovascular problems and poor circulation
While we all know booze can sabotage your stiffy, it’s a little known fact that alcohol actually inhibits sexual performance by causing cardiovascular problems and poor circulation, both of which are serious health concerns.
‘Too much alcohol consumption increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and low testosterone, all of which can cause long term erectile dysfunction,’ says Cichi. ‘Men (and people with penises) can also experience temporary problems achieving an erection after drinking because alcohol can decrease blood flow to the penis.’
- Vaginal dryness
Have you ever been so drunk you found sex sore and uncomfortable? For women and people with vulvas, the physical impacts of drinking alcohol can be a lack of lubrication due to vaginal dryness and difficulties reaching an orgasm, explains Cichi.
‘Alcohol is dehydrating which can decrease lubrication in the vagina and make sex uncomfortable and painful,’ he says. Use a lubricant when having sex under the influence of alcohol to reduce soreness and make it more pleasurable. And better yet, substitute every other drink with water throughout the night. That way you’ll save money and increase your chances of having an orgasm, what’s not to lose?
- Less enjoyment
If you always have to get blind drunk before hitting the bedroom, you’re also doing sex (and yourself) a huge disservice. Sober sex is one of the most intimate and enjoyable ways you can spend your time and should not be underestimated. ‘Although alcohol in small amounts may have a role to play in breaking down inhibitions, too much can ruin the experience and pleasure by not being able to tune into arousal and be present with a partner in that very moment,’ explains Dr Spelman.
- Testicular volume
Bad news for male and penis-having people who struggle with chronic alcohol abuse: liver disease can mean you lose testicular volume, which can seriously sabotage your sex life. ‘This reduces the testosterone levels and again has an effect on both libido and erectile function,’ says Muneer. If you think your penchant for a tipple might be veering into dangerous drinking territory, seek help before alcoholism sabotages your whole life and not just sexy time.
- Weight gain
We’re all familiar with beer bellies and moobs. But did you know that being overweight can impact your testosterone and wreak havoc with your libido? As Muneer explains, men and people with penises who have ‘a lot of body fat which can develop due to high alcohol consumption tend to have a lower serum testosterone’. Again, this can lead to a reduced sex drive, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction. If in doubt, cut down on your drinking. Leading a healthier lifestyle is important for all-round health and not just your sex life.
- Clouded judgement
Aside from the physical damage drinking can do, there are some potentially very serious indirect effects too. ‘The loss of inhibitions that you experience with alcohol can lead to sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies as you may forget to use protection, such as condoms,’ says Dr Daniel Cichi. ‘Or you may feel that you don’t need to use protection as your judgment is clouded by the effects of alcohol.’ The more sober and aware you are, the safer sex will be.
Are you dependent on alcohol for sex?
How do you know if you have become too reliant on alcohol to get laid? According to Dr Spelman, using alcohol as a crutch to boost your confidence in the bedroom can have the following negative consequences:
- When people drink too much alcohol they begin to dissociate and are not completely conscious in terms of being aware of everything that is happening.
- If you drink to excess, you can’t fully enjoy the experience and make informed decisions.
- People may act differently to when they are sober, and this can sometimes lead to regret or disappointment if they can’t remember the sex or were unable to maximise the experience.
- Some people rely on alcoholto be able to have sex as they haven’t been able to become comfortable in receiving pleasure any other way.
If any of these points sound familiar, then try taking part in sober sex and see how it feels. If even the idea of engaging in sexual activity without a drink first fills you with dread, then you might have a problem and it’s time to seek help.
Help and support with alcohol abuse
If you think you might have a drinking problem Cichi recommends seeking counselling to help with any emotional issues that may be affecting your sex life, or visiting your GP or sexual health clinic if you find sex physically uncomfortable rather than relying on alcohol to numb the pain.
For additional help and support with any concerns you might have related to drinking, try one of the following resources:
- UK: for alcohol addiction services in your area.
- co.uk: for a unit calculator and alcohol advice.
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): is a free self-help group.
- SMART Recovery: helping people decide whether they have a problem.