Alcohol consumption is pervasive throughout almost all of human history, across many different cultures spread around the world. It’s no surprise that people have explored sexual intercourse while under the influence of alcohol. This article describes some of the key issues related to engaging in sex while under the influence.
Alcohol is a legal substance in most countries around the world, however, due to its intoxicating properties, alcohol makes it impossible for an individual to give consent. Consent can only be given by an individual who is sober regardless of how eager a person may seem, drinking alcohol takes away their ability to give consent, and then any form of sexual contact could be considered sexual assault or rape.1 Because alcohol impedes an individual’s ability to make decisions the rules of consent are designed to protect people from being taken advantage of when they are in the vulnerable state of intoxication.
It is important to remember that once under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, a person is incapable of giving consent. Even a sexual act in which two intoxicated persons have agreed to engage in is not considered consensual and can possibly be classified as sexual assault upon both parties.
Alcohol and the Physical Sexual Response
Alcohol is classified as a depressant drug meaning that it slows down the central nervous system, which sends signals throughout the body that communicate what to and how to move.1 The brain makes this possible by sending messages to different parts of the to direct its movement. Alcohol slows down the speed at which the brain is able to send these signals, so the body reacts more slowly when intoxicated.1
For males, alcohol use increases the risk of erectile dysfunction because alcohol lowers a person’s blood pressure, and therefore, inhibits the blood circulation that is necessary for the penis to obtain and maintain an erection. Alcohol also interferes with the female sexual response. Insufficient lubrication during sex is common for women who consume alcohol prior to sexual activity due to the dehydrating effect that alcohol has on the body. This can lead to less pleasurable and even painful intercourse. Alcohol also lowers sensitivity of nerve endings and affects the ability to have an orgasm in both sexes.2
Alcohol’s Effects on Sexual Behavior
Some people consider alcohol to be an aphrodisiac because consuming one or more drinks can act as a “social lubricant.”2 Alcohol has the ability to lower one’s inhibitions; this effect of alcohol is one of the main reasons it is used in so many social situations such as dates and parties. People under the influence may become more talkative, flirtatious, and/or unaware of risky situations. Moreover, alcohol may allow people to feel less guilty about their actions.
Even at low doses, alcohol significantly impacts a person’s judgment and coordination. Drinking can make people more impulsive and more likely to act without rationally considering the consequences. However, drinking is not an excuse for irresponsible behavior. The Harvard School of Public Health conducted studies on the risks of binge drinking by college students. They found that students who binge drank were more likely to do something they later regretted, forget where they were or what they did, engage in unplanned sexual activity, and have unprotected sex compared with their non-binge drinking peers.4
Alcohol is the most commonly used “date rape” drug. This means that, more than any other substance, alcohol is used by people who wish to put their victims in a more vulnerable state so where it is easier to take advantage of them for sexual fulfillment.2 It is important for individuals who consume alcohol to make sure they are always in a safe environment and, preferably with trustworthy people around who can protect them.
Things To Keep In Mind When Drinking
There are many things to be mindful of when an individual decides to drink alcohol. This is a list of a few important things to consider whenever one decides to drink.
1. Have a plan before going out drinking. Make sure you and your friends know your intentions for the night. If you are sure that you do not want to have sex that night, ask your friends to help support you and uphold your decision.
2. Stay with friends who you know you can trust. They cannot help you if you go off on your own or spend time alone with a stranger or acquaintance whom you do not know very well.
3. If you intend to find a sex partner for the evening, make sure you are prepared. In other words, have some condoms on hand and plan for birth control.
4. Be aware of the amount of alcohol you are drinking. Remember that hard liquor will have a much greater effect on you than beer. Keep in mind that excessive drinking of any type of alcohol can lead to blackouts (blackouts are moments of temporary memory loss caused by excessive alcohol consumption in which the intoxicated individual is conscious and capable of engaging in normal behavior however will be unable to recall any of their own actions, conversations, or events which took place during the blackout). Excessive drinking can also cause someone to lose consciousness and become very vulnerable.
5. Keep an eye on your drink. If possible, pour your own drink or always watch your drink being poured. Some people have had rohypnol (commonly referred to as “roofies”) or other “rape drugs” slipped into their drink. It takes only a split second for this to happen, so be mindful.
Alcohol consumption can be entertaining, however, it does include risks. While some people may believe that having sex under the influence of alcohol feels enjoyable, it is impossible to achieve consent; therefore, it is imperative that people keep this risk in mind if they still choose to engage in this kind of sexual interaction. Alcohol lowers inhibition and impairs people physically as well as cognitively. While some people believe that alcohol is a form of “liquid courage” that allows them to become bolder in social situations, it should never be used to persuade another individual to engage in a sexual act. That kind of manipulation would be considered sexual assault and is a punishable offense in several countries including the United States.
Different Types of Sexual Assault: http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/article/different-types-sexual-assault
What to Do If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted: http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/article/what-do-if-you-have-been-sexually-assaulted
Reducing Risk for Sexual Assault: http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/article/reducing-risk-sexual-assault
What to Do If Your Friend or Loved One Has Been Sexually Assaulted: http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/article/what-do-if-your-friend-or-loved-one-has-been-sexually-assaulted
The Definition of Rape: http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/article/definition-rape
- “What Consent Looks Like.” RAINN. Web. 2016.
- “Sexual Assault.” United States Department of Justice. Web. Apr. 2016.
- “Date Rape Drugs Fact Sheet.” Office on Women’s Health. Web. Jul. 2012.
- "Alcohol Effects." WebMD. 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
- "Alcohol and Sex." Brown University Health Promotion. Brown University. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
- "Sex Under the Influence." Stanford University Bridge. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.
Last Updated: 10 November 2016.