From the Bible to pop music, the implication that alcohol works like some sort of love potion has been around for ages. It’s a common belief that alcohol gets you loosened up, horny, and ready for action.

But does alcohol actually have an aphrodisiac effect? Is there such a thing as beer goggles? Will drinking make your orgasms better, or just leave you too sloshed to orgasm at all?

Here’s a look at how alcohol actually affects your sexual desire, arousal, and performance.

If you have a vagina, alcohol can have a range of effects on your sex life.

It increases sexual desire — sort of

A drink or two may boost arousal, but it’s not a sure bet.

Drinking alcohol increases testosterone levels in females. This male sex hormone plays a role in sexual desire. It may be a factor in females reporting more sexual desire when drinking.

There’s also an element of expectation. People often associate drinking with lowered inhibitions and feeling sexier and more confident. It’s kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you expect to get lucky when you’re drinking, you probably will.

It can increase and decrease sexual arousal

Some females may have more interest in sex when they’ve had a few drinks, but that doesn’t mean their bodies are going to be into it.

Evidence shows that while alcohol may make females think they’re horny, too much booze actually has a negative effect physiologically and decreases genital response.

When it comes to alcohol and sex, moderation is key, according to some reports. Also, the more you drink, the worse your genital response and physical arousal.

Orgasms are harder to ‘come’ by

While one drink may not interfere with blood flow down there, one drink too many can have a physiological, cognitive, and behavioral impact that can cause alcohol-induced orgasmic dysfunction.

This can mean taking longer to climax and having less intense orgasms. That’s if you’re able to orgasm at all.

If you like a happy ending after masturbation or partnered sexual activities, it’s best not to get soused.

It makes it harder to get wet

When you’re aroused, your body prepares for intercourse by increasing blood flow to your genitals, causing them to swell and self-lubricate.

Drinking too much can stop these physiological responses and interfere with vaginal wetness, resulting in friction and discomfort.

The effects of alcohol on males are a bit more straightforward.

Getting hard might be difficult

Yep, “whiskey dick” is a thing. And it’s not just whiskey that’s to blame. Any alcoholic beverage can do it.

Alcohol can affect your ability to get and maintain an erection. Drinking too much on the regular can also cause permanent damage and erectile dysfunction.

Booze messes with your boner a few ways:

  • It decreases blood flow to the penis.
  • It increases angiotensin, a hormone linked to erectile dysfunction.
  • It depresses your central nervous system.

It can delay ejaculation

It’s unlikely that a couple of drinks are going to prevent you from ejaculating, but drinking too much can.

Excessive drinking can cause delayed ejaculation, which is taking longer than 30 minutes to reach orgasm and ejaculate with sexual stimulation. For some, it can mean not being able to ejaculate at all, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A little bit may make you hornier

Similar to the effect in females, having just a drink or two may increase sexual desire and arousal in males.

Again, the key appears to be modest drinking. One drink — two if you weigh more than 190 pounds — may get you all hot and bothered. But any more than that and your sex drive and ability to get an erection make take a nosedive.

You’re more likely to take sexual risks

This can be a good thing, but not always.

While alcohol has been linked to greater risk-taking in males and females, it appears to be more of a driving factor for males.

A drink or two can have a relaxing effect and help lower inhibitions when it comes to being sexual. This might make you more open to exploring new things. But you can have too much of a good thing.

The more you drink, the more risky your sexual behavior is likely to be. Based on various studies, males are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, such as intercourse without barrier protection, when under the influence.

While we’re on the topic of alcohol and sex, why not address some common rumors?

Everyone looks hotter when you’re drunk

Believe it or not, quite a few studies have looked at the “beer goggles” effect, though their results are mixed.

One 2014 study concluded that alcohol does seem to make people appear more attractive, particularly those who weren’t perceived as attractive to begin with. And it’s not just people. Landscapes appeared more attractive, too.

Even male fruit flies seem to get less picky about their potential mates after being given alcohol.

Science aside, it’s not hard to see why alcohol may lead to sleeping with someone you wouldn’t normally bat an eyelash at. Drinking lowers inhibitions, increases socialization, and impairs judgment.

Everyone processes alcohol in the same way

Not true. Females and males absorb and metabolize alcohol differently.

Females typically have less body water than males, even if they weigh the same. With less water to dilute alcohol, females have higher concentrations of alcohol in their bloodstream, leading to more alcohol-related impairment.

In other words, if you’re out with someone of the opposite sex and you drink the same amount, this doesn’t mean you’re both equally intoxicated.

You can’t be sexually assaulted when you’re drunk

Absolutely NOT true. Having a few drinks — even a lot of drinks — isn’t a justification for unwanted sexual attention or activity.

Alcohol doesn’t cause sexual assault, but it can be a contributing factor, according to research.

Clear consent is necessary before any type of sexual contact. Alcohol doesn’t exempt anyone from that. Getting consent is extremely important when mixing alcohol and sex.

Engaging in any type of sexual activity with someone who’s too drunk to give consent is sexual assault or rape.

No thorough discussion of alcohol and sex is complete without mentioning consent. Consent is clear, voluntary agreement to take part in sexual activity. This includes all sexual activity, including:

You need to give and get consent before taking part in any kind of sexual activity so all involved are sure the sexual activity is wanted and agreed to.

If you’re not sure if you have someone’s consent, you probably don’t, even if they’re intoxicated.

Alcohol can impair a person’s judgment, affect their ability to communicate clearly, and even make it hard to read what someone is trying to say or express. This can make it hard to have a straightforward convo about consent.

To make it easier, let’s look at some ways to go about it.

Verbal consent

The best way to ensure you have consent is to straight up ask. You can be direct and name or describe the act you’re talking about, like, “Can I kiss/go down on you?” or you can ask them what they want to do.

You can also talk about what you both want beforehand and set clear boundaries and expectations. Be sure to check in during, too, by asking if they’re still into it and before moving on to another sexual act.

Remember that you can both change your mind and withdraw consent at any time, even during the sexual encounter.

Nonverbal consent

Body language, including facial expressions and hand gestures, can be used to give consent.

Make sure it’s obvious, enthusiastic, and clear before and during any sexual activity. This is especially important when there’s alcohol involved, since drinking can make things fuzzy and impair a person’s judgment.

Some examples are nodding your head to say yes or shaking your head to say no. Pulling someone closer to you can indicate consent, while pushing someone away or turning away from them shows you don’t consent.

If someone appears uncomfortable or you’re not sure, you need to stop what you’re doing and ask verbally. Consent should be obvious and enthusiastic, even if no words are used.

Intoxication vs. incapacitation

Knowing the difference between intoxication and incapacitation is important when sex and alcohol are involved.

An intoxicated person can still give consent as long as they’re able to make informed decisions without pressure or coercion. However, keep in mind that alcohol does reduce the ability to make an informed decision.

Here are some signs of intoxication:

  • slurred speech
  • stumbling or wobbling when walking
  • exaggerated emotions and gestures

Consent cannot be given by someone who’s incapacitated.

Some signs of incapacitation include:

  • speaking incoherently
  • not being able to walk without assistance
  • confusion, like not knowing the day of the week or where they are
  • passing out

Still have Q’s? Check out our guide to consent.

Was this helpful?

Alcohol can definitely muddy things up when it comes to engaging in sexual acts with someone else, but there are some things you can do:

  • Set yourself a drink limit. Stick to it to avoid getting too drunk.
  • Pace yourself. Alternate between alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.
  • Bring protection. If you think tonight might be the night, pack some form of barrier method protection, regardless of whether you’re expecting oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
  • Your body, your prerogative. Don’t be pressured into doing anything you don’t want. Don’t try to coerce anyone else into sexual activity.

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Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow, or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddleboard.