The social lubricant isn’t necessarily helpful in bed.
Anyone who’s been single while finding themselves in a warmly lit bar, surrounded by good-looking people, with a drink in hand and a stellar playlist filling the space knows that alcohol can play a pretty powerful role in attracting a partner. Whether you’re trying out the timeless human mating call, “Can I buy you a drink?” or enjoying a glass of wine at home with your long-term partner, liquor is a social lubricant that helps many of us bring things to the bedroom.
A drink can help loosen you up and give you the confidence to be a bit more, whether you’re flirting with a hot stranger at the bar or getting romantic with your significant other—but once you get to the bedroom, things might turn out a different way.
You might wonder: does alcohol affect sex drive? And the answer to that is complicated. Social attitudes surrounding alcohol may lead some people to treat it like an aphrodisiac, but there’s no clear science that shows that it will make you want to have sex. And there’s also a difference between having a cocktail or two and drinking heavily—which can dramatically change the relationship between alcohol and sex, leading to riskier sexual behavior.
This is all to say that alcohol does affect sex quite a bit. So, before you start your next date with drinks, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Alcohol can make you more daring
First, the good things: Alcohol can make you feel more attractive, as one 2018 study found—and make you perceive others as being more attractive, too. It can also decrease sexual inhibitions—as another 2018 study found that alcohol made people more likely to have “kinkier” sex (science quite literally says so).
Can alcohol lead to sex? Maybe, but it’s complicated. While not necessarily clinically proven, there does still lie the fact that many people view alcohol as a preferred precursor to sex. In that way, it can make people a lot more confident, which can make them a lot more charming, and, therefore, more sexually successful.
Increased risk for STIs
But, of course, this can trend in a negative direction, too: Heavy drinking patterns were associated with increased STIs, according to a 2015 study. Consider this a reminder to use protection, even when you’re feeling buzzed.
It can make sex more uncomfortable
The link between alcohol and sex drive is a tricky one: As you emotionally “loosen up,” your body can work against you in the bedroom. Alcohol can lead to sexual dysfunction for both those with penises and vaginas. Because alcohol dehydrates the body, it makes it harder for the vagina to lubricate—a problem that can make sex more uncomfortable, but this is pretty easily solved with a good lube.
Harder time getting aroused
For those with penises, alcohol is a factor that can increase the likelihood of erectile dysfunction or impotence—which, when you’re mentally in the mood, can be a serious buzzkill. Long-term heavy alcohol consumption can also make these issues worse over time. Research has also shown that while alcohol can increase feelings of sexual attraction and desire in women, it decreases physiological arousal.
It can make it harder to orgasm
Because alcohol is a depressant, it slows down your nervous system—which is why a drink makes you feel more relaxed. It’s also why alcohol can make it take longer to orgasm, or make you unable to orgasm at all, according to sex therapist Madeleine M. Castellanos, MD—this goes for both those with vaginas and penises. For some, heavy drinking can also cause premature ejaculation, as one 2007 study found. Either way: You’re not setting yourself up for a good time. A drink or two probably isn’t going to make it impossible for you to get off, but too many will cause you problems (and heavy drinking isn’t good for your health as a whole, anyway).
Alcohol affects sex hormone levels
Research shows that alcohol can increase testosterone levels in pre-menopausal women, and, additionally, some research has shown that increased testosterone levels can, in turn, increase libido. The same can’t be said for men.
Alcohol and fertility
If you’re having sex with procreation as your goal, then alcohol will also play a role—though not necessarily a huge one. Research shows that moderate drinking doesn’t reduce a woman’s ability to conceive, though heavy drinking can make it more difficult. Heavy drinking can also decrease the quality of sperm.
Alcohol and your body
Ever feel like your partner takes way more drinks to feel buzzed than you do? It’s because people metabolize alcohol differently. Several factors impact a person’s alcohol tolerance, including height, weight, and body fat composition. Women and men also metabolize alcohol differently: women tend to have less body water than men of similar body weight, so they can reach a higher blood alcohol content, even when drinking the same amount. That means they can get drunker, faster—and they are more likely to risk health risks from alcohol overconsumption.
When alcohol is involved, it’s also important to remember the importance of consent: A person cannot consent to sexual activities if they are incapacitated by alcohol. Communication, as always, is key.
While there are plenty of risks to consider when it comes to alcohol and sex, it’s important to remember that moderation is key—if a drink going to make you more relaxed in bed, or just help you have fun connecting with your partner, they likely won’t cause adverse side effects. Just don’t forget to drink water, too.