Recent data shows alcohol consumption among women rose by 41% during the pandemic. There are certainly downsides to alcohol; it could trigger hot flashes, mess with your sleep, and may even promote liver issues. Alcohol also impacts your sex life, but it isn’t talked about much.
You may think drinking puts you in the mood or makes having sex easier, less awkward, and more enjoyable. But research shows that’s not the case. Alcohol doesn’t just impair brain function; it fizzles out your desire, libido, and ability to orgasm.
While there are many good reasons for giving up booze, a better sex life might be the reason to convince you!
In this article, you’ll learn more about the effects of alcohol on your hormones and nervous system. Plus, we’ll cover some practical tips for how to make sex less awkward when you are sober.
Alcohol and Hormones
Alcohol changes hormone levels quite quickly. Regular or chronic alcohol consumption causes hormone imbalances and poor hormonal communication. These hormone imbalances affect the whole body and may lead to reproductive issues.
Here are some common hormone-related alcohol effects:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Fertility challenges
- Hot flashes at night
- Vaginal dryness and changes in vaginal flora
- Increased risk for breast cancer
A study found an escalation of menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women with alcohol dependence. In addition to severe symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats, the women in the study had increased sexual disorders and decreased sexual activity.
Let’s look at how alcohol impacts estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and luteinizing hormone in women.
The connection between alcohol and hormones has been known for quite some time. Data compiled in 2000 found even moderate alcohol consumption correlates with increased estrogen levels and changes in other hormones.
You might expect higher estrogen with long-term alcohol use, but effects occur almost immediately as the liver prioritizes alcohol detoxification. Estrogen breakdown takes a back seat leading to more circulating estrogen.
In studies of women of childbearing age, women had higher estrogen levels during menstrual cycles when they were drinking alcohol compared to cycles where they didn’t drink at all. In postmenopausal women, estrogen levels increase, whether a woman uses hormone replacement or not.
Estrogen dominates the first phase of the menstrual cycle (before ovulation, usually around the first two weeks), but you may notice symptoms during the second, or luteal, phase (between ovulation and menstruation).
Elevated estrogen feels like premenstrual syndrome (PMS), irritability, painful breasts, and increased histamine levels that cause allergy-like symptoms. If you have estrogen dominance, it may be worth looking at your alcohol use.
As estrogen goes up with alcohol, progesterone levels may also decrease. Even moderate alcohol consumption can have this effect on women.
The corpus luteum produces progesterone after ovulation. It helps balance the effects of estrogen and promote sleep and a sense of calm. When progesterone is low in comparison to estrogen, it contributes to estrogen dominance, period problems, and impacts fertility.
One approach some people opt for to help with low progesterone is progesterone cream, but it is always best to check with your doctor first. . In addition, progesterone cream isn’t the best option if you do need progesterone hormone replacement therapy.
Not only does alcohol influence hormones, but your hormone levels may influence your desire to drink. In one study, young women were more likely to drink on lower progesterone days of their menstrual cycle (follicular phase) when they had a negative mood. Conversely, on cycle days when progesterone was higher (luteal phase), the women were more likely to drink when they experienced a positive mood.
Learn more about mood changes during the menstrual cycle here.
Alcohol and the Nervous System
One of the most well-known effects of alcohol is how it influences brain and nervous system function. Since the brain is your primary “sexy” organ — meaning, your brain plays a major role in arousal or lack thereof — this is another way that alcohol impacts your sex life.
Moderate drinking leads to short-term impairment of the nervous system and brain health. It impacts your memory, balance, speech, and reaction time. This is why drinking and driving is a bad idea.
Alcohol Depresses the Nervous System
While alcohol may feel like a stimulant, especially at first when you get a little tipsy, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It slows the functioning of nerve cells, decreases circulation, and numbs the brain, all of which dampen the physical genital response with sexual activity.
As I explain in Is This Normal:
“While alcohol may seem like your best bet to get those juices flowing, it actually can lead to dehydration, vaginal dryness, and decreased pleasure—especially when heavily drinking. The “whiskey vagina” phenomenon of decreased sensitivity, struggle to orgasm, and less satisfying orgasms is real, as alcohol interferes with both your nerves and blood flow to the nether regions.”
Slows the Functioning of Nerve Cells
A slower functioning nervous system means impaired communication between the brain and body and between nerve cells. This nerve slowing decreases genital arousal in women and less lubrication. You may experience dampened sensation, less pleasure, and you may find yourself reaching for the lube due to vaginal dryness.
Neurotransmitters like serotonin facilitate communication between nerve cells. It’s been apparent for decades that alcohol impacts serotonin levels and receptor activity, which may be one reason alcohol feels rewarding to the nervous system and plays a role in addiction. Alcohol has both short-term and long-term effects on serotonin levels, which may play a role in depression and serotonin deficiency, along with changes in sexual desire.
Numbing Effect on the Brain
We’ve discussed the consequences of alcohol on the brain in terms of slower brain function, but it also has a numbing effect. Drinking can impair your judgment and ability to consent in sexual situations. Alcohol use has been shown to inhibit condom negotiation skills, communication, and impair sexual decision making. Because of this, many studies have suggested a causal relationship between alcohol use and STI risk, including HIV.
Alcohol use also increases the risk for sexual assault. Big red flag.
May Dull Clitoral Stimulation
The nervous system is essential for clitoral stimulation. And alcohol can diminish nerve sensitivity and nerve function, leading to fewer orgasms, a longer time to climax, and less intense or less satisfying orgasms.
In addition, physical arousal requires blood flow to the genitals to swell and lubricate. In high amounts, alcohol decreases this blood flow and can reduce sensation and vaginal wetness. Sexual stimulation doesn’t have the same effect when intoxicated.
Clitoris is the Most Nerve-Rich Part of the Vulva
If you notice orgasmic dysfunction, your alcohol habits may play a role.
How to Make Sex Less Awkward Sober
Now that we’ve covered the negative effects of alcohol on your sex life, you might be wondering how to have sober sex. Many women use alcohol to help them relax or feel more comfortable and confident in their bodies and worry that sex without alcohol will mean awkward sex.
The truth is that it might be awkward and increasing confidence without liquid courage might take some practice. That is okay.
Remember that drunk sex isn’t always good sex. It may also be physically uncomfortable because of a reduced sexual response and increased friction, and lead to fewer orgasms. Alcohol can be a contributor to pain with sex.
When it comes to sex tips for women, relax. Be present. Feeling your body sensations will heighten your experience. You may feel more connected with your partner and experience the closeness and intimacy you desire. This connection is in fact what makes sex more pleasurable, stimulating, and orgasmic.
Lighten the Mood with Humor
Sex doesn’t need to be perfect; imperfect sex is normal. Lighten the mood with humor, laugh, and have fun. Take the pressure off by acknowledging that it’s awkward. The more you practice sober sex, the more you will gain confidence and experience pleasure.
Sex Doesn’t Have to be Overly Serious
If you struggle with body image, sex can feel serious and intimidating. One tip for sex is to make it more comfortable. Dim the lights, turn on music, or light a candle to create the mood. Wear clothing or lingerie that you feel good in. Create an environment where you feel more comfortable as a way to build body confidence.
Check In with Your Partner Before, During, And After
Alcohol use and overuse can get in the way of consent. When you are sober, it’s easier to give and receive consent and say no when you’re not into it. And great communication means you both can explore things that bring you pleasure.
Communication increases connection, so check in more.
Talk Openly About Any Uneasy Feelings
If you feel awkward or embarrassed, say so and let your partner reassure you.
Focus on how you feel instead of how you look. Bring mindfulness into sex and use it to be in your body and understand what makes you feel good so you can communicate it.
You can also practice mindfulness outside the bedroom with mindful eating, meditation, breathing exercise, or yoga. The more you practice being in the present moment, the easier it will become to be present during sex.
Read Body Language
As you become more present and in tune with your body, you can be more present and in tune with your partner. When you are sober, you’ll catch more subtle cues and be able to read their body language to have more connected sex.
Don’t Make Assumptions, Ask Questions
Don’t assume; consent. Consent is sexy. Sober sex is sexy. Awkward, vulnerable, imperfect sex is sexy. And it’s all normal.
If you want to learn more about your hormones and sex to discover all the truths many women experience but may not talk about, pick up your copy of my new book, Is This Normal? It provides the tools to help you balance your hormones, boost your libido, and get your energy back all in 28 days. This book teaches you ways to care for your body, while bringing more pleasure and enjoyment into your sex life. No alcohol required.
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