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Alcohol Abuse & Sexual Dysfunction | Short-Term & Long-Term Effects

Published on August 13, 2021
Alcohol Abuse & Sexual Dysfunction | Short-Term & Long-Term Effects

Alcohol consumption can affect a person’s sexual desire, judgment, and performance. However, misconceptions related to alcohol and sex are common.

Many people lack a deeper understanding of alcohol’s complex and sometimes paradoxical effects related to human sexuality, in both the short- and long-term.

Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol On Sexual Desire & Performance

Binge drinking is a widespread form of alcohol abuse. It’s defined as having five or more drinks as a man or four or more drinks as a woman in the span of two hours, or otherwise drinking any amount of alcohol which raises blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08 mg/l or more. 

Binge drinking can have a number of different effects on sexual desire and performance for both men and women.

Increased Libido

Alcohol has long been considered an aphrodisiac. Drinking may help a person loosen up or put them in the right mood for sexual activity, especially if anticipation has been building up ahead of a fun night on the town.

However, alcohol’s progressive ability to lower inhibitions and compromise judgement also makes it more likely that individuals will make bad decisions and take unnecessary risks, including risky sex.

Decreased Perception

Studies have suggested that the “beer goggles effect” is, in fact, real. One side effect of alcohol intake can cause individuals to rate others as more attractive than they would have considered them when sober, or overlook red flags in potential partners.

Decreased Physical Arousal

While drinking alcohol may increase a person’s interest in sex, it has the opposite effect on physical arousal and sexual performance. 

An elevated BAC interferes with blood flow and may compromise men’s erectile function (the infamous “whiskey dick”) and women’s ability to produce vaginal lubrication.

Delayed Orgasm/Ejaculation

In the same way, alcohol’s smothering effect on the central nervous system can make it much harder for both men and women to orgasm, either alone or in company.

Decreased Desire

While a small number of drinks may increase libido, drunkenness often does not. 

Though some may still be interested in sex despite severe inebriation, many find that the nausea, dizziness, lack of coordination, vomiting, drowsiness, confusions, and hangovers that come with alcohol abuse make intimacy less than appealing.

 Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On Sexual Function

Sexual health problems are highly prevalent among those who compulsively engage in heavy drinking or who have developed alcohol dependence, conditions collectively known as alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

AUD can cause chronic sexual problems through physical effects (hypertension, heart disease, etc.), mental health effects (anxiety, depression), and overall damage to a person’s social and relational wellbeing. 

Sexual Arousal Disorders

Arousal disorders are common issues reported by both men and women with AUD.

Alcohol is a leading cause of erectile dysfunction (impotence, or difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection) in men. This risk is further magnified if a man chooses to smoke tobacco products.

In women, AUD has been linked with sexual arousal disorders including dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), low vaginal lubrication, and higher rates of other health problems that impact sexual functioning.

Orgasm Disorders

The ability to orgasm is closely related to sexual arousal and can be impaired by high levels of anxiety, which AUD often increases.

Accordingly, men with AUD may struggle with premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, or an inability to ejaculate or achieve orgasm. Women too may have difficulty achieving orgasm as dependency on alcohol deepens.

Decreased Libido

AUD can decrease a person’s sense of passion, focus, and interest in anything besides drinking, and this includes sexual desire. 

This tendency towards behavioral, emotional, and social apathy is experienced by both men and women and can become progressively worse as AUD increases in severity.

Understanding Alcohol’s Effects On Your Sex Life

Alcohol’s effects are often described by experts as paradoxical due to alcohol’s ability to act as both a stimulant and depressant depending on the situation.

In general, when your BAC increases slowly, alcohol acts as a depressant, calming mental and physical activity potentially relieving pain, anxiety, and stress.

Binge drinking, however, spikes BAC rapidly, triggering a sudden release of dopamine and euphoria that boost a person’s talkativeness, social impulse, and sex drive. 

These effects are most pronounced at a BAC of .05 mg/l, though they are replaced by powerful and potentially dangerous depressant effects at .08 mg/l.

Paradoxical Effects

As a result, the effects of alcohol on sexual performance and desire can change dramatically. 

Alcoholic beverages can boost a person’s sex drive, lowers inhibition, and impair judgment for a short period of time before then suppressing sexual response, arousal, and sensation as dopamine levels fall off and physiological depression becomes more and more prominent.

If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol use disorder, please contact us today to learn about our treatment options.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men's Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women's Health
Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine - Sexual Dysfunction in Patients with Alcohol and Opioid Dependence

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