Coloured alcoholic beverages
Illustration by Marta Pucci

The Impact of Alcohol on Sex Drive

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness

Sex on the beach anyone? More than 2.3 billion people around the world drink alcohol on a regular basis — so if you enjoy a drink you're in good company! In fact, for most people having a drink is their way of relaxing, socializing, or taking time for themselves.

However, alcohol can have a big impact on your body's short and long-term health. The effect of alcohol on your sex drive is no exception. This is why most doctors recommend that you limit your alcohol intake to no more than 14 units over the course of a week.

So how does alcohol affect your sex drive? If you want to get in touch with your libido and improve your sexual health, read on to find out more!

Alcohol decreases your sex hormone levels

Your body produces a huge range of hormones, which can affect your mood and trigger other bodily functions. Sex hormones, which include testosterone and dopamine, can have a big impact on your libido.

These rise and fall over time, which is why your libido may fluctuate. For example, in women, testosterone levels rise before and during ovulation. This boosts your libido, which increases the chances of you falling pregnant.

When you first drink alcohol, your testosterone and dopamine levels temporarily rise. This is why some people think that alcohol can actually help with boosting sex drives.

However, this increase doesn't last for long. In fact, alcohol can decrease levels of dopamine and testosterone and this will leave you with a lower libido overall.

Alcohol is a depressant

A reduction in your dopamine levels doesn't just affect your libido. Dopamine and serotonin are also known as your happy hormones. As the name suggests, they promote feelings of happiness and well-being.

However, alcohol acts as a depressant in the brain and this lowers your levels of happy hormones. Because of this, you may also find that drinking:

  • Creates mood swings
  • Leaves you feeling depressed or anxious
  • Distorts your judgment
  • Damages your self-esteem

Your mental health can have a huge impact on your libido. After all, happiness and confidence are a great foundation for any sex life. So limiting the impacts of depressants in your life will make the world of difference. You might be interested in reading our complete guide on low libido causes, where we list (almost) all the reasons that might cause a low libido.

Alcohol affects the quality of your sleep

Getting a good night's sleep is important for a huge number of bodily functions. This is why most doctors recommend getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.

This gives your body time to rest and recover and this benefits all of your physical and cognitive functions. So it won't come as a surprise that a lack of sleep can affect your libido. Lack of sleep can reduce your feelings of desire and can make experiencing arousal more difficult.

Alcohol can have a big impact on the quality of sleep that you get. As your body digests alcohol it actually becomes more psychologically stimulated. This means that you may find it harder to get to sleep or that your sleep is frequently disturbed and this can have a knock-on effect on your libido.

Drinking can make you unaware of your boundaries

Having a healthy and safe sex life is all about feeling comfortable and confident with your sexual partner. This might be someone that you have known for years or it might be someone new. Either way, understanding and respecting each other's boundaries is vital.

While drinking might make you feel temporarily more confident, it can create a lot of problems further down the line. Drinking a lot can impair your cognitive functions. This can affect your judgment, communication, and sensitivity to your sexual partner.

As a result, one or both of you might not feel comfortable in a sexual situation. If that is the case, it is important to stop and wait until you sober up before you make any decisions. A sex therapist may be able to help you understand and talk more about your boundaries, so it's always worth asking for support if you want it.

Being drunk can make sex less pleasurable

Obviously when you're drunk your hand-eye coordination may leave something to be desired. As a result, you might find that you aren't on your A-game sexually.

However, even if you are, most people don't have the same physical response to sex when they are drunk. This can result in:

  • More difficult orgasming
  • Less vaginal lubrication
  • Premature ejaculation
  • Erectile dysfunction (more on this in just a moment)

Long-term drinking, especially excessive drinking, can actually cause nerve damage in your body. This can affect both the penis and the clitoris. As a result, you may find that your sexual pleasure is reduced if you have been drinking heavily for a long period of time.

Fortunately, your nerves can repair themselves over time. So if you do decide to take a break, your genitals may recover on their own. If you are concerned about nerve damage, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor about this.

Alcohol can increase your chances of experiencing erectile dysfunction

There's a huge range of erectile dysfunction causes and alcohol is one of them. There are several reasons why this can happen.

Firstly, when a man experiences arousal his brain has to send a message to his penis and this triggers an erection. However, when you are drunk your brain functions work more slowly than normal. This means that the message may take a while to arrive or not arrive at all.

Drinking alcohol also dehydrates your body and this can reduce your blood volume and circulation. In order to have and maintain a healthy erection, the penis needs decent blood flow. Without this, penetrative sex becomes very difficult.

Dehydration can also increase men's levels of angiotensin. This is a hormone that encourages your blood vessels to constrict, which reduces your circulation even more.

While these changes are often associated with men, they can affect women as well. Women's arousal also relies on good blood circulation and this can affect sensitivity in the clitoris and vagina. So women may find it harder to become aroused or reach orgasm during sex if they have been drinking.

Alcohol and fertility

You may not be having sex in order to get pregnant and that is absolutely fine — enjoy yourself! However, it is worth noting that drinking can have an impact on your fertility. So if you are looking to start a family, you might want to check your drinking habits.

For women, drinking regularly may affect how long it takes for you to get pregnant. Heavy drinking, in particular, can result in a number of ovulation disorders.

As well as affecting your sex drive, alcohol can also affect men's quality of sperm. This can reduce your sperm count, shape, motility, and size. All of this means that it is more difficult to get your partner pregnant.

Taking a break from drinking

If you are looking for ways to improve your sex drive, you might want to reduce your drinking. You don't have to cut this out completely — a healthy amount of alcohol once a week won't do much damage but you should avoid binge drinking.

To really feel the effects of cutting down on alcohol, make a note of when you started. That way you can track and appreciate your progress.

As with all things libido-related, you should try to be patient with yourself. Most people really feel the effects of cutting out alcohol after about four weeks. This gives your system plenty of time to clear everything out.

This might be something you want to discuss or do with your partner. This can make adjusting your habits easier. Of course, you can still enjoy all of the same activities that you did before, just without the alcohol.

3.7% of adults around the world experience some sort of alcohol dependence during their lives. That might not sound like a very high number but it is equal to around 296 million people across the world.

So if you are worried about your relationship with alcohol you are not alone. Getting help and professional support is the first step towards understanding your relationship with alcohol and getting it under control.

Keep these effects of alcohol on your sex drive in mind

As you can see, the effects of alcohol on your sex drive can be incredibly varied. It may reduce your libido and arousal before sex, or it may impact how much you enjoy having sex altogether. This can, of course, create a vicious cycle.

If you're looking for ways of improving your sexual health, reducing your alcohol intake or taking a break might help. For more help and support understanding your libido and what affects it, check out the Blueheart App today.

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