In a 2019 Irish health survey, 68% of respondents said alcohol had affected past decisions around safe sex. A 2016 academic entitled “Does Drinking Improve the Quality of Sexual Experiences?” found that people’s sexual experiences were generally less positive on drinking than sober occasions.” But how does the disease of alcoholism affect sexual experiences?
In this blog, we’ll look at 5 of the most common ways that alcoholism impacts on sexual experiences. If you relate to some or all of these examples, it’s worth having an assessment for your alcohol use. If you’re dependent on alcohol to have sex, or you drink so much that sex is often difficult or unsafe, then help is available.
5 Common Ways Alcoholism Affects Sexual Experiences
Excessive alcohol affects libido and sexual potency
Whilst small or moderate amounts of alcohol can increase libido, excessive or alcoholic drinking can disrupt the desire for sex, or remove it altogether.
Physically, men who drink too much can struggle to achieve or maintain an erection. Ejaculation can be impaired too. Women who drink heavily can suffer from vaginal dryness.
Over time, alcoholism affects major bodily organs and systems that are critical to healthy sexual function – including the brain, sex organs and the endocrine system.
Alcohol affects judgment about sex
Alcohol decreases sexual inhibitions. For moderate drinkers, this can feel liberating. For alcoholics, however, there is often a pattern of problematic sexual experiences.
For example, it’s common for alcoholics to regret sex after drinking too much. When sober, they know they wouldn’t have made the same choices.
Decisions around safe sex practices are also affected by alcohol. Decreased inhibitions can also lead to greater risk-taking with sexual partners. For some people, this can feel exciting and experimental. For others, they have regrets about putting themselves at risk of STIs or having sex with partners they don’t know or like.
It is possible to have sex in a blackout
Just as it’s possible to drive a car or have a fight in an alcohol blackout, it’s also possible to have sex. This is where you cannot remember what happened when you sober up.
Alcoholics often have times when they cannot remember things that have happened or they only have patchy memories. If this is in connection with sexual experiences, it can be very traumatising – especially if it happens often or there are doubts around consent.
Alcoholics often fear sober sex
Alcohol addicts in early recovery often say they cannot imagine having sober sex. Some wonder how they will ever be intimate in alcohol recovery. Others swear off sex altogether in the early phase of their recovery.
This is usually because recovering alcoholics in early sobriety have little or no recent experience of having sex sober. Most people overcome this fear successfully by engaging with addiction treatment or attending recovery support groups. They can talk about their fears and discover healthy approaches to intimacy and sex. They go on to have healthy sexual experiences and enjoy sex in sobriety.
Some recovering alcohol addicts may find they need treatment or counselling for sexual anorexia if the idea of sober sex feels terrifying or impossible.
Alcoholism can mask sex addiction
It’s often the case that alcohol addicts blame all of their bad sexual experiences on alcohol. In recovery from alcoholism, however, they can sometimes discover an underlying sex addiction.
Additionally, by quitting alcohol it’s very common for libido and sexual potency to return, sometimes very suddenly. In early alcohol recovery, this can lead to cross-addiction, where an addict turns to sex for the escapism they once sought from alcohol.
Whether it’s a pre-existing condition or people develop sex addiction in recovery, there is a highly effective treatment to restore choice to sexual experiences.