11 ways alcohol affects your sex life and relationships

Konstantin Shadrin / ShutterstockAlcohol affects our judgments.
  • A drink helps you unwind at the end of the day.
  • It can also help you form friendships and relationships by relaxing you and reducing anxiety.
  • But too much alcohol also has a negative impact on your relationships.
  • For instance, it can increase aggression, and make sex less enjoyable.

Alcohol is a curious thing. Some reports say a small amount could make you live longer, while other studies say there is no safe amount at all.

One thing’s for sure, though – alcohol certainly affects our behaviour. So much so, some people report feeling completely different when they have had a drink.

It’s a staple of our social lives, often being referred to as a “social lubricant,” but alcohol can also be damaging to our relationships.

Here are 11 ways alcohol can affect your friendships, romantic connections, and sex life – for better or for worse.

1. It makes you more confident

Research has shown that alcohol suppresses psychological inhibitions, which may mean the anxiety and nerves associated with making a move on someone are reduced. It can also make you more confident in other ways.

“Body image concerns or worries about pleasing a partner or reaching orgasm can be relaxed with a glass of wine,” said sex therapist Laurie Watson in a blog post for Psychology Today. “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.”

2. You take more risks

Lower inhibitions and an extra dose of confidence mean you’re more likely to take risks. This could mean going up to the person you fancy and making a move, or making your feelings for someone clear.

Research has shown how when drinking, the brain has decreased sensitivity in regions involved in detecting threats, and increased activity in regions associated with reward. This means you may be less able to tell the difference between a threatening and non-threatening social situation, leading to more risky behaviour. For some, this can mean accidentally starting brawls. For others, it can be declaring their fondness for someone.

3. In the moment, it can reduce stress

Alcohol is a sedative and a depressant. This means it affects the central nervous system, and in moderation can make you feel more relaxed. In the short term, drinking lowers the stresses of life, because you feel less bothered by everything you have to do.

This stops you obsessing over your responsibilities so much, lessening anxiety, and allowing you to live more in the moment. This is pretty important for connecting with someone.

“Alcohol’s depressant properties slow down the neurons in our brain temporarily, lowering pressure and tension from our worries,” wrote Watson. “And optimal sex requires us to focus on the sensations in the body letting go of our stressors and endless to-do lists.”

4. Beer goggles make people seem more attractive


Beer goggles are often thought of as a myth, but according to research, there is some truth to the idea people seem more attractive through the lens of alcohol.

In 2003, a study in the journal Addiction found that men and women rated people as more attractive if they’d consumed alcohol. Similarly, in 2014, a study published in Alcohol and Alcoholism found alcohol influences the perceived attractiveness of both faces and landscapes.

Increased attraction while tipsy could be to do with lowered inhibitions, but it could also be something to do with how the brain interprets faces. For example, one study suggests alcohol makes people less able to recognise symmetry, which is one characteristic of attractiveness.

It could also be the reward system going into overdrive, meaning a drunk person is more likely to seek out pleasurable activities like sex… or cheese fries.

5. It can make us closer

Alcohol impacts the prefrontal cortex in the brain, which is the region associated with emotions. This means after a drink you might want to feel closer to the person you like. According to Watson, alcohol can cause you to be more talkative, meaning you’re more open about your 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,” she said.

6. It can help form friendships

For those who suffer from anxiety, a small amount of alcohol can help them in social settings by making them more relaxed and less self-aware.

A small amount of alcohol can also make people more friendly and more empathetic – both important characteristics when making friends.

However, if you feel you need to have a drink to be able to cope with talking to people in every situation, then it could be a sign of a bigger problem.

7. Scent and alcohol consumption are linked

Alcohol and attraction can work both ways. According to some research, the way a man smells might have an impact on how much a woman drinks when she is with him. Men also drink more if they smell the scent of a woman who is in her fertile period.

The researchers concluded that male scents might instigate drinking because there is a cultural association between drinking alcohol and having sex. Research has shown that alcohol suppresses psychological inhibitions, which may lead to an increased desire for sex.

8. Your judgment is impaired

Although having a drink can make you more confident, drinking too much can have a bad impact on our judgment, and you may not realise you’re getting yourself into a dangerous situation.

For instance, you may accidentally have unprotected sex, or you may be unable to give consent.

“Obviously, not to have clear consent with a partner means drinking and attempting sex can also be a risk for a misunderstanding or even an accusation,” said Watson.

9. It can impact performance

As Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth: “It increases the desire, but it takes away the performance.”

Alcohol is a major cause of impotence, otherwise known as erectile dysfunction. So although you might have all the intentions of having sex, drinking too much can mean it just isn’t going to happen.

Being drunk affects women’s biology too, by decreasing libido, and even making sex uncomfortable or painful.

10. It affects memory

“Being inebriated is sometimes a passive way to not be present with our partner or be able to understand their sexual and emotional needs,” said Watson.

In other words, if you’ve had too much to drink, you might not be so much in the moment with your partner. Sometimes you might even forget you’ve shared an intimate moment with them.

11. It can increase the chance of infidelity

Reduced anxiety and inhibitions can be great. But it can also mean you do things you wouldn’t normally do. For some people, this means cheating on their partner.

Drinking can mean some of your repressed emotions rise to the surface. For instance, if you’re in an unhappy relationship, having a drink might make you more inclined to face those feelings. This may mean you seek comfort in someone else in a moment of weakness.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.