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8 Ways Alcohol Can Affect Your Sex Life

Risks and benefits of alcohol in bed.

Source: PeopleImages/iStock
Source: PeopleImages/iStock

The relationship between alcohol and sex is a tricky one. It can help us open up to healthy sexual activities, but as you can imagine, it can lead us into dangerous situations as well. So, how does alcohol affect our sex lives exactly? Here’s the good and bad of it.

1) Alcohol lowers our inhibitions. Though it doesn’t actually increase libido, alcohol does lower our inhibitions. It can ease our anxiety and help us move past the issues that have kept us from being sexual. Body image concerns or worries about pleasing a partner or reaching orgasm can be relaxed with a glass of wine. Alcohol may also make erotic talk seem easier. Focusing on performance suffocates a man’s instinct to initiate, and a small amount of alcohol can reduce his fear of a poor outcome and increase his sexual courage. If performance problems are psychogenic, his “going with the moment” and the lack of anxiety will improve his erections or his staying power.

2) Alcohol can help us focus on the present. Stress is one of the most common reasons for lower sexual frequency. Alcohol’s depressant properties slow down the neurons in our brain temporarily, lowering pressure and tension from our worries. And optimal sex requires us to focus on the sensations in the body letting go of our stressors and endless to-do lists.

3) Increases feelings of being attracted to our partner. Studies show that people rate others as more attractive after drinking than when judging the same people without consuming alcohol. Attraction is actually a variable quantity that is influenced by how we are getting along, our feelings of connection, our own state of mind as well as what our partner looks like.

4) Makes us want to be close to someone. The effect of alcohol on our prefrontal cortex, which governs our emotions, can urge us to get close to our partner. It can make us more talkative, which includes becoming more open about our loving feelings. If a partner needs their spouse to open up in order to make it emotionally safe to feel sexual, small amounts of alcohol may increase their relatedness.

Unfortunately, in larger amounts, alcohol can nearly do the exact opposite of what is mentioned above.

1) Alcohol carries inherent risks as a substance. For some people the risk of alcoholism is very real and any drink might cause them to fall back into an addiction. Certain health conditions and medications have a contraindication for alcohol. And some research has suggested a possible link between regular alcohol consumption and cancer and other diseases.

2) Impaired judgment. If we are not with a safe partner, alcohol may cause us to make poor decisions about having sex with someone inappropriate or make us vulnerable to having unprotected sex. Obviously, not having clear consent with a partner means that drinking and attempting sex can also risk a misunderstanding or even an accusation.

3) Poor sexual performance. Too much alcohol often causes poor erectile functioning. For women, it can dehydrate the vagina, causing penetration to be uncomfortable, even painful.

4) Separate us from reality and our partner. Being inebriated is sometimes a passive way to not be present with our partner or able to understand their sexual and emotional needs.

If you do decide to take advantage of the helpful sexual properties of alcohol, keep the risks in mind. For more discussion, you can listen here.

More from Laurie J Watson PhD, LMFT, LPC
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