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Sex and Alcohol

What are the sex effects of alcohol?

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Updated July 02, 2007

For better or worse, there is an intimate relationship between sex and alcohol in our culture. Many people use alcohol to “loosen themselves up” in anticipation of having sex with a new partner, and it is a commonly held belief that alcohol is an aphrodisiac. But the actual sexual effects of alcohol are complicated, and there are many serious negative sexual consequences of drinking too much and drinking too often.

Always remember that drug effects are rarely simple, and there is no true “wonder drug” that will give you every benefit without any drawback (or vice versa). Also, because sex is more than just a physiological process, drugs may impact your psychological and social experiences of sex in ways that are unpredictable.

Does alcohol make sex better?

Alcohol has a “disinhibiting” effect, which can make people “loosen up” and feel more comfortable initiating or engaging in sex.

Alcohol may make you feel more socially confident, and in small quantities may facilitate more socializing and sexual communication.

In small amounts, alcohol has been reported to have a positive impact on sexual desire and arousal.

The Bottom Line: There are many social messages reinforcing the idea that sex goes with alcohol, and in small amounts (and when not consumed chronically) alcohol is reported to have a positive effect on sexual desire and arousal.

Does alcohol make sex worse?

Even after a few drinks sexual response is reduced.

In large amounts alcohol makes sex difficult to impossible. In moderate amounts alcohol can have an impact on engaging in risky sexual behavior, although this impact is not fully understood.

As drinking increases, both men and women will experience a reduction in sexual arousal -- men may have difficulty getting erections, and both men and women may have difficulty experiencing orgasm.

There are many severe consequences to chronic alcohol consumption, including erectile disorders and dysfunction in men, loss of sexual desire, significant decrease in sexual arousal, and difficulty experiencing orgasm for men and women.

The Bottom Line: When looking at long-term impacts, it is clear that the negative sex effects of alcohol far outweigh the positive. Also, like other drugs, alcohol has what is called “dose effect” which means that if you have even a little bit too much for you, the positive sex effects go away and negative ones appear (most notoriously is alcohol's impact on getting an erection).

For more details, read about the sex effects of alcohol on men and the sex effects of alcohol on women.

Sources:

  1. Crenshaw, T.L. & Goldberg, J.P. Sexual Pharmacology: Drugs that Affect Sexual Function. New York: Norton, 1996.
  2. Norris, J., Masters, N.T., Zawacki, T. “Cognitive Mediation of Women's Sexual Decision Making: The Influence of Alcohol, Contextual Factors, and Background Variables.” Annual Review of Sex Research Volume 15. (2004): 258-297.
  3. Seagraves, R.T. & Balon, R. Sexual Pharmacology: Fast Facts. New York : Norton, 2003.
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