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Alcohol, your sex life and fertility

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Drinking alcohol can increase your confidence with the opposite sex and your sexual desire at first, but it can have a bad effect on what happens in bed.

Alcohol can also cause longer term problems with sex and fertility.

How can alcohol affect sex and fertility?

Problems with erections

Men or boys who drink large amounts of alcohol can find it hard to get or keep an erection, so that they can’t have sex. This is called erectile dysfunction (ED). ED can happen because alcohol interferes with the chemical messengers in the brain that tell your penis to fill with blood and expand (getting an erection). ED can also happen because alcohol can  reduce the production of testosterone. Testosterone is the hormone that controls male sexual functions. ED is normally a temporary problem.

Problems with orgasms

Alcohol interferes with your ability to feel sexual stimulation by interfering with the signals between the brain and the genitals. Men can find it hard to ejaculate (come) or may ejaculate too quickly. Women may find it harder to orgasm or their orgasms may feel less intense after heavy drinking.

Sex drive (libido)

Drinking heavily over a long period of time can lead to a lower sex drive (libido), due to reduced levels of testosterone.

Shrinking of sex organs

High-risk drinking over a long time can cause a man’s testes and penis to shrink.¹

Fertility

Lowered testosterone can affect sperm production, which can reduce fertility. Women who drink heavily for a long time may find they stop ovulating. High-risk drinking is a possible cause of infertility, but there is some evidence that even small amounts of alcohol can affect fertility.²

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

You may also be at risk from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), because alcohol lowers inhibitions and affects your judgement, increasing the chance of having unprotected sex.

Alcohol and sexual behaviour 

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Alcohol lowers our inhibitions. It can make us feel more confident and some people feel it makes it easier to get together with someone we are sexually attracted to. But alcohol also affects our judgement and our sense of control. Alcohol can mean you may do something you regret

    • You may have sex with a person you wouldn’t normally want to have sex with
    • You may not read the signs well if the other person isn’t comfortable with what is happening
    • You may find it hard to say no or you may pressure someone without realising it
    • You may engage in a sexual behaviour that you wouldn’t normally consider or have unprotected sex

Sex, alcohol and the law

Having sex with someone who is drunk is against the law as the person is legally incapable of consent (Sexual Offenses Act , 2017).

A person does not consent to a sexual act if:

  • He or she is asleep or unconscious,
  • He or she is incapable of consenting because of the effect of alcohol or some other drug,
  • He or she is mistaken as to the nature and purpose of the act
  • He or she is mistaken as to the identity of any other person involved in the act

If convicted, this could result in a person being given a prison sentence and being entered on the register of Sex Offenders.

What can I do to reduce my risk?

Stay within the low-risk guidelines and avoid binge drinking: Most sexual health problems improve if you stay within the low-risk drinking guidelines. If you are trying for a baby cutting down or giving up can boost your fertility and can reverse temporary fertility problems caused by alcohol.

Take condoms with you on a night out: Even if you are not planning to have sex.

Get medical help if you are having problems: Don’t be embarrassed to see your GP if you have problems with your sex life.

¹ http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-3/195.pdf
² Jensen, Tina Kold., et al (August 1998)., 'Does moderate alcohol consumption affect fertility?', BMJ, vol 317, pp. 505 – 510

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