Presentation of alcohol as an essential aid for sexual attractiveness and performance is rife in today’s world. Billboards, newspapers, television and radio ads are examples of this. These forms of media have significantly influenced sexual behaviours across virtually all cultures. The influence is worse among young people.
For many, alcohol and sex are like bread and butter. In a study, 82% of young people aged 16-30 years reported they drank alcohol before having sex. In fact, alcohol use has been found to be predictive of the age of first intercourse (early first sexual intercourse is more common in young people who use alcohol regularly). For many, alcohol use before sex is inspired by the beliefs that it enhances sex performance.
Does alcohol really enhance sex?
People often claim that alcohol gives them more confidence in sex. This may be related to loss of inhibition (i.e. self-control; and thus caring less about what others think of their behavior at that moment) brought about by alcohol use. This makes them take more sexual risks than the general population.
The risks include having multiple sexual partners and having sex while drunk without the use of condom and/or any other contraceptives. Conversely, alcoholic women have been notably found to have loss of interest in sex. There is also sufficient evidence that sexual dysfunction in men can result from alcohol use.
Alcohol, Erectile Function, and Sperm Quality
While alcohol may “enhance” libido, an excessive amount of it can stand in the way of satisfactory sex by impairing erection. In other words, erection may be delayed following alcohol use. Moreover, when attained, erection is weak and short-lived (“brewer’s droop” is a common name for this side effect of alcohol). Alcohol indirectly impairs sexual performance by depressing the central nervous system which is responsible for the cascades of activities/body functions that lead to sexual satisfaction.
In a study done in 2004, about 1 in every 10 alcohol users tended to have difficulty in reaching orgasms. They were also found to have a problem with ejaculation. In women, owing to its dehydrating effect, excessive alcohol intake can lead to inadequate vaginal lubrication. This may delay and prevent orgasm in them. It can also lead to pain during sexual intercourse.
However, some women claim they feel more pleasure when they take alcohol before sex. Excessive use of alcohol has also been found to reduce the semen volume/amount and sperm count and quality. Also, chronic alcohol use may reduce the level of testosterone in men. It can also lead to shrinkage of the testes.
How much the presence of estrogen (a female hormone) found in beer impacts on sperm quality deserves to be in the frontline of public health, considering the almost ubiquitous nature of beers. The elevated estrogen level seen in alcoholics can also be explained by the reduced ability of the liver to handle the sex hormone.
Some researchers carried out a year study on 66 people using a minimum of 180mL of alcohol/day (“brandy and whiskey”) for at least 5 days a week who abstained from cigarette and other drugs.
They used 30 other people who abstained from both alcohol and cigarette as a control. They found that the semen volume and sperm quality in them were reduced when compared with the 30 people in the control group. Underlying this finding, they found that the male reproductive hormones were significantly deranged in the alcoholic group.
Alcohol and Multiple Sexual Partners
There is evidence that the number of sexual partners an individual who uses alcohol heavily has, increases in proportion to the amount of alcohol taken by the individual. In fact, going by a study, heavy drinkers are three times more likely to have 5 or more partners than nondrinkers.
Alcohol and Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Alcohol use makes people especially youths to have sex without the use of condoms. Going by a survey, 1 in every 3 young people aged 16-22 years reported having unprotected sex following alcohol use. This explains the observation of relatively high alcohol intake among clients in clinics for genital and urinary complaints. Another survey concluded that after a night of drinking, 29% of the participants reported having sexually transmitted infection.
An estimated 60% of sexually transmitted diseases were related to alcohol use. In support of this fact, it has been observed that the cases of STIs declined with increased enforcement of laws that restrict alcohol use.
Alcohol and Unwanted Pregnancy
It has been observed that nearly half of unplanned sex occurs following alcohol use. Similarly, unwanted pregnancies and alcohol abuse have been found in geographical clusters. About 1 in 8 respondents that had unprotected sex with alcohol use in a 1996 FPA (Family Planning Association) survey reported that had been pregnant at least once. Several other studies support this finding.
Alcohol and Sexual Preference/Choice
Alcohol use can alter an individual’s sense of judgment. This often leads to an indiscriminate and inappropriate choice of sexual partners, spontaneous (unplanned sex) and unprotected sex, and the several emotional consequences that come in its trains.
Regrets, depression, teenage pregnancy, and single parenthood are well-documented results of alcohol use before sex. Many young people claimed they find it hard to remember whether they had sex or not after drinking. Some people got involved (kissing or having sex) with people that were not attracted to naturally.
Emotional Aftermath of Sex-drinking
Ordinarily, casual sex is not without its numerous emotional consequences. Casual sex following alcohol intake carries greater emotional aftermaths given the fact that the person may not be the individual’s choice. Many feel disrespected or used by their partners, according to a survey. This is more common in women. In many instances (as much as 52% in a survey), there is need to call the partner to apologize after such encounters.
Some people in faithful relationships found themselves cheating on their partners following alcohol use. Relationship strains, divorce and emotional and psychological problems of the children in the family are some of the social consequences of alcohol abuse.
Oftentimes, people take to alcohol during periods of financial or relationship problems. The fact that alcohol worsens existing financial or relationship problems is however indisputable.
Alcohol and Sexual Assault/Abuse
Alcohol intoxication can make an individual sexually aggressive and incontinent. Sexual assault is commonly perpetrated under the influence of alcohol. This is even worse if the victim is drunk as she may not be able to resist being raped.
According to a survey, as much as 3 in every 4 date rapes were carried out by getting the victim drunk. Sexual violence resulting in physical injury is also a common finding.
Alcohol-related Health Conditions and Sex
Hypertension, heart attack, liver and kidney diseases are some of the alcohol-related conditions that can impact on sexual health.
In conclusion, alcohol intake should not exceed one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. (A drink is one 12 oz. beer i.e. 350ml of 5% ABV beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits).