There are lots of reasons why alcohol sometimes makes you want to take your clothes off.
Obviously alcohol affects everyone differently, but it’s not uncommon to be a little more open, comfortable, and excited about having sex after a drink or two (or several). But the psychological and physiological effects of alcohol on your sex life are a little more complicated than that. So BuzzFeed Life reached out to a few experts to explain what really happens when you mix booze and sex.
1. Booze affects your brain, often making you less inhibited and more relaxed.
The brain is the body’s biggest sex organ, Dr. Madeleine Castellanos, board-certified psychiatrist specializing in sex therapy and author of Wanting to Want, tells Buzzfeed Life. So it makes sense that any substance that affects your mind will have a big impact on your sex life. In this case, that alcohol is shutting down some of the processes of the brain, typically making you more impulsive and less anxious.
2. But despite what tequila might try to tell you, alcohol isn’t actually an aphrodisiac.
Some people mistake the decrease in inhibitions as an increase in arousal and believe that alcohol has magical aphrodisiac effects. But the drinks aren’t really activating any unknown sexual part of your brain — it just disinhibits you. “Those sexual curiosities and desires already exist inside your head, and when you drink they can come to the surface, because the parts of your brain which tell you ‘No that’s not a good idea’ or ‘I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that’ are shutting down,” Dr. Jennifer Berman, urologist and female sexual health expert, tells BuzzFeed Life.
3. One or two drinks might make you feel physically turned on.
For instance, the antioxidants found in wine can help boost blood flow to your genitals, Dr. Harry Fisch, urologist and professor of clinical reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, tells BuzzFeed Life. In small to moderate doses, this might make you feel all warm and great down there.
Plus, alcohol can help dilate your blood vessels. “The clitoris, labia, and vagina can become engorged and more lubricated,” says Berman. “Women often report that they feel more aroused when they drink, but it’s still hard to maintain the arousal and reach an orgasm.”
4. But alcohol also makes it harder for your brain to connect the dots between your genitals getting touched and your mind feeling aroused.
Normally when your penis/clitoris/labia is touched in a way that feels awesome, your brain translates those sensations into arousal. But with alcohol, these sensations are dulled and your brain isn’t as receptive to them, so your genitals can feel less sensitive, says Castellanos. That’s because alcohol depresses the central nervous system, which decreases arousal and sexual response to stimulation. So things that would normally turn you on or push you over the edge to orgasm may not feel as pleasurable, she explains.
5. Whiskey dick is very real, and it’s not always all or nothing.
The phenomenon known as “whiskey dick” doesn’t actually have to involve whiskey at all. It’s what happens whenever you have erection issues after drinking, and it’s super common. This typically happens because the penis is less responsive to stimuli, making it harder to get and maintain an erection, says Berman.
But alcohol can mess with your boner without making it totally flaccid. “It’s a spectrum, and for some guys when they drink their erection just might not be as full, but they can still have sex,” says Berman.
6. Booze can also make vaginal dryness an issue.
Alcohol is obviously dehydrating, so you might find it harder to lubricate when you’re drunk. This is more often an issue for someone who is perimenopausal or menopausal and is already experiencing vaginal dryness due to hormonal changes, says Berman, but it can happen to anyone.
7. And having an orgasm can take forever after a few drinks…if it even happens at all.
Alcohol can delay ejaculation or interfere with it completely, says Fisch. This usually happens because your sensations are dulled and your erection isn’t operating at its full potential.
Clitoral and vaginal orgasms can also be hard to come by, or just less exciting when they do happen. “It’s still very individual, as some people may have a glass of wine and feel fine, but generally it makes climax more difficult,” says Castellanos.
8. Sex injuries are also more common when inebriated.
“Just like when you wake up with a huge bruise after a night of drinking and think, How did I get that? If you can’t feel or sense what’s going on, you can wake up super sore and raw because you engaged in sexual activities that were painful but couldn’t tell,” says Castellanos. Like tears from not being lubricated enough, bruises from accidentally hitting the nightstand, or bite marks from…getting a little carried away.
This can be even more of an issue with anal sex, since proper lubrication is especially important. If you’re less aware of when you need more lube or when you should slow down, you might be more likely to hurt yourself or your partner, says Castellanos.
9. Alcohol can cloud your judgement when it comes to safe and consensual sex.
“If you’re too uninhibited, you can lose the rational control and perspective which allows you to make beneficial choices,” says Berman. In those circumstances, you might forget all about birth control or just decide to risk it when you can’t find a condom. Plus, the decrease in physical sensation makes it harder to notice if a condom breaks or falls off mid-sex, says Castellanos. In addition to that, alcohol can put you in a position where it’s harder to determine if both parties are fully consenting.
10. Even if alcohol generally makes you feel less anxious and more awesome during sex, it’s important to keep an eye on your relationship between the two.
“Some people think sex is easier when they have a drink or two,” Castellanos says. “They might have higher anxiety about sex or self-image or have difficulty relating to sexual partners. They drink alcohol because it numbs the central nervous system and the anxious part of their brain.”
The problem arises when you never deal with the root of that anxiety when sober and you continue to use alcohol as a crutch for sexual intimacy. You may also develop a tolerance and need more alcohol to dampen anxiety over time. If you’re noticing this cycle in your own life, it would be wise to take a break from drinking and talk to a friend, family member, doctor, or therapist about what you’re going through. “There are other ways to deal with your anxiety rather than squashing it with a few drinks,” says Castellanos.
11. Your sex life can also suffer from the long-term effects of too much booze.
In addition to the acute effects of alcohol, it can also have chronic effects on the body. “Alcohol increases blood sugar and is a major factor in the development of heart disease,” Castellanos explains. “Good sexual functioning needs good blood flow, so if your arteries clog up with plaque, it will impact blood flow to the heart — but also the penis and clitoral tissue complex — and really impact your sex life.”
It can also increase cortisol (the stress hormone) and lower testosterone, she says, which can be bad for libido. “The number one thing I tell patients who come in because they’re having trouble with sex is to start by cutting out alcohol,” Fisch says.
The bottom line: When it comes to your sex life, drink wisely.
Everyone will have a different experience with drinking — and with sex, for that matter. So listen to your body and cut back if you’re noticing any sexual or other health issues. A little alcohol in moderation may actually work fine for you, but that’s certainly no reason to start drinking if you don’t already.
“While a drink or two can be a great part of sexual connection and foreplay, be aware that the good side of mixing alcohol and sex doesn’t outweigh the downside,” says Berman.
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