Drinking alcohol helps some people relax, socialize, and celebrate. Although people commonly mix alcohol and sex, alcohol can have a significant impact on sexual activity.

Many people use alcohol to help reduce their inhibitions in the hope that it will reduce anxiety and allow them to have better sex.

Although one or two drinks might be beneficial, consuming too much alcohol can change the way a person’s body responds to sexual activity and may result in less satisfying sex.

This article examines the effects of alcohol on sex, tackles some common myths, and provides tips on best practices.

A woman and a man drink alcohol at a party, which can impact sex or sexual behavior.Share on Pinterest
People commonly mix alcohol and sex, but alcohol can affect attraction, arousal, and sexual risk.

Drinking alcohol can have a range of effects on female arousal, desire, responsiveness, and sexual behavior.

Research suggests that drinking alcohol is associated with feeling more attractive and finding others more attractive, too. Females also reported feeling more desire for sex when they had consumed alcohol.

However, an older study suggests that although alcohol may increase female arousal, consuming too much may have a negative physiological effect and decrease genital response.

Alcohol may also affect sex because it has a numbing effect on the genitals. People who took part in a 2018 study reported that sex lasted longer after drinking alcohol, which may be due to decreased sensation. Females also reported less vaginal lubrication and difficulty reaching orgasm.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol may also lead females to take more risks when it comes to sex. One study of adults in New Zealand suggests that heavy drinking patterns were associated with more sexual partners, regretted sex, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and pregnancy terminations.

For males, the effects of drinking alcohol are similar.

Some say that drinking gives them courage and removes inhibition when it comes to sex. In one study, more males than females reported being “less picky” when it came to choosing who to have sex with.

Like females, males also reported less sensation in the genitals after drinking alcohol, meaning that they may take longer to reach orgasm. Sexual dysfunction is also likely to be more common in males who are dependent on alcohol.

Males with alcohol dependence are also more likely to experience issues such as erectile dysfunction, unsatisfying orgasm, premature ejaculation, and loss of libido.

Risky sexual behavior is more likely when males consume alcohol in excess. For example, one 2016 study suggests that males are more likely to engage in unprotected sex when they have been drinking alcohol. This can transmit STIs and lead to unintended pregnancies.

The sections below will look at some common myths surrounding sex and alcohol consumption.

Drinking makes other people appear more attractive

Science has actually proven the “beer goggles” effect.

In a 2014 study, participants who had consumed alcohol rated images of people more highly for attractiveness than a placebo group did. Interestingly, the ratings increased the most for those who people did not rate as very attractive to begin with.

This effect is not surprising, as alcohol increases socialization, reduces inhibitions, and impairs judgment.

Alcohol affects females and males differently

When males and females drink alcohol at the same rate, regardless of weight, females are more likely to get more drunk. This is due to physiological differences in body composition, metabolism, and hormones.

Female bodies generally contain less water and enzymes that break down alcohol, have a higher proportion of body fat, and experience changes in hormones that may affect metabolism.

Drinking can improve sex

An alcoholic drink or two might help shake off some inhibitions and increase confidence during sex, but being drunk usually has a negative impact.

After drinking alcohol, it is more difficult to control movements, communicate with a partner, and focus on a partner’s needs.

Feeling nauseous, feeling dizzy, falling asleep, being unable to get an erection, and being unable to reach orgasm can also be problematic during sex while drunk.

If both partners are drunk during sex, it cannot be sexual assault

This is not true. Both partners need to give consent before any sexual activity. Otherwise, it is sexual assault.

In an older study, 2% of college students in the United States reported experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault.

Alcohol consumption impairs judgment and affects a person’s memory for events. This means that it can sometimes be difficult for a person to recall the exact events of an assault.

Consent is a clear, voluntary agreement to take part in any sexual activity, including kissing.

If a person has not given their consent, any sexual activity toward them is sexual assault or rape. It is important to note that being drunk makes communication harder, and it may be more difficult to establish consent after consuming alcohol in excess.

A person should never assume that another person consents to any sexual activity.

The following sections list some ways to make sure that both partners are consenting to sexual activity.

Verbal consent

This is the clearest, safest, and least ambiguous form of consent.

To establish verbal consent:

  • Establish boundaries before engaging in sexual activity and talk frankly about any no-go acts.
  • Always ask a partner if it is OK to try a sexual act before initiating it.
  • Check in with a partner during sex to make sure that they are still OK with it.
  • Remember that either partner can withdraw their consent at any time, including during sex.

Nonverbal consent

There are ways to show willingness to engage in sexual activity without using words.

These include:

  • nodding for yes or shaking the head for no
  • giving a thumbs up
  • pulling someone closer
  • actively touching someone
  • initiating sexual activity

If a person is unsure whether or not their partner is consenting, they should stop and ask. Do not assume consent if someone is passive, silent, or not actively resisting.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, as a person’s blood alcohol content increases, so too do the risks associated with alcohol.

The difference between intoxication and incapacitation by alcohol is important when it comes to engaging in sexual activity.

An intoxicated person should be able to make decisions and communicate coherently enough to give consent. They may have slurred speech, heightened emotions, and stumble a little when they walk, but they should still appear to be in control of what they are doing.

An incapacitated person is too drunk to give consent. They may need help walking, be incoherent, be confused, or pass out.

It is sexual assault if a person attempts to engage in sexual activity with a person who is incapacitated and has not given clear consent.

Drinking alcohol can complicate matters when it comes to engaging in sexual activity.

However, having a plan in mind before starting to drink can make it an enjoyable experience.

A person should:

  • try to pace their drinking and alternate alcoholic with nonalcoholic beverages
  • set a limit and stick to it to avoid getting too drunk
  • carry condoms or another barrier method, even if they do not expect to engage in sexual activity
  • try to remember that they should not feel pressured to partake in any sexual activity
  • not pressure anyone else to engage in sexual activity

Having an alcoholic drink or two may help people get in the mood for sex. It may even make it more enjoyable.

However, drinking too much alcohol may have negative effects. People should be mindful and cautious when drinking and there is a possibility of engaging in sexual activity,

Never engage in sexual activity when either partner is too drunk to make informed decisions. Clear consent is required in every case.