Sex Under the Influence

Part II: The Effects of Alcohol on

Sexual Function

We've all heard about the effects that alcohol has on the body, especially if you read the last issue of the Balance Beam (hint, hint). We know that it lowers inhibitions, clouds thinking and effective communication, and impairs decision-making. The relationship between alcohol and sexual assault was also discussed in the last issue. So what else does alcohol do to us in terms of sex? Putting aside its relationship with risky sex (risk of sexual assault, STDs, failure to use contraception, etc.), alcohol has an enormous effect on our ability to have sex. Keep in mind that "sex" refers to any sexual experience you have with another person, not just intercourse.

For instance, have you ever had a few beers at a party, then had a few more, and then relaxed so much that you were able to hit on that special someone you've had a huge crush on since freshman year? Suppose that the person was receptive to your advances and you ended up in a heated moment with him/her in your room. Sounds decent so far, huh? Well, now what happens when you try to have sex?

For men, alcohol impairs the ability to have and to maintain erections as well as the ability to have orgasms. For women, alcohol inhibits natural lubrication, lowers sensitivity, and impairs the ability to have orgasms. For both men and women, alcohol impairs balance and fine motor coordinaton ("oops, sorry, I thought that was your face..."), acts as a depressant ("gee, sorry I fell asleep on you last night...literally"), can make you an awful kisser ("He's a great guy, but he slobbered all over my face"), and in general, a clod ("I'm sorry, I didn't mean to tell you that you look like a fish when you sleep").

I'm not saying that if you drink alcohol you are always going to have an awful or difficult time when intimately involved with someone. But, on the other hand, it seems like we all have trouble with at least one aspect of healthy relationships, be it open and honest communication, sensitivity to each other's needs and wants, intimacy, not getting on each other's nerves, understanding each other or simply being a good friend and lover to each other.

Now, if we add alcohol to the equation, chances are we're headed for trouble. This is not to say that alcohol doesn't have its merits and that everyone should abstain from drinking alcohol (of course, everyone who is under 21 already does, but...). Alcohol plays a big part in our culture so it's important to realize the effects that it can have on our relationships with others. In the 1993 Health Needs Assessment survey of Stanford students that over 1000 people filled out, there was a question that read something like, "When you think that you might have sex or sexual contact with someone, do you refrain from drinking alcohol?" An amazing number of students wrote in comments next to the question that read something to the effect of "Why would I do that?" or "What does this question have to do with anything?"

Hopefully this stall series has shed some light on the reality of having sex under the influence of alcohol and why you might want to refrain from drinking alcohol if you think you might be sexually involved with someone. Contrary to images of popular media, sex is not always graceful and enjoyable. Sex can be embarrassing, blah, unenjoyable or even painful. Have you ever heard yourself or others saying, "I don't know why, but I just didn't enjoy it?" Well, if you or your partner have been drinking, you may have your answer. Of course there are a million other things that influence your ability to have sex or your enjoyability of sex, but alcohol consumption is one thing that we can alter to get the most enjoyment out of our relationships and life in general.

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