Alcohol & Male Libido: The Effects

Alcohol and Libido
Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
2nd September 2020

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In 30 seconds

If you’re wondering about the effects of alcohol on male libido, you’re not alone — there’s a vast amount of scientific research into how it affects mental and physical sexual response.
Alcohol has psychoactive properties that can make you feel good, but overdoing it is more likely to harm your libido, among other negatives.
Alcohol has a powerful placebo effect that’s amplified by setting. Take safe steps and make sure both you and your partner are comfortable.

Alcohol and the Male Libido: Do They Mix? 

Any anecdotal evidence you gather will likely present two differing outcomes; that alcohol can make you feel more relaxed to initiate sex, but that it can also dull your senses where it counts. But is there any scientific basis for this? And are there any other effects of alcohol on male libido that you should know about?

In this article, we’ll approach the age-old question “does alcohol affect libido?” with the latest scientific research so you’re well stocked up on the facts.

Alcohol and Libido: Setting the Mood

Drinking some wine with a candlelit dinner won’t win any prizes for originality, but it wouldn’t be cliché if it didn’t boost libido, right? 

There’s some scientific evidence to suggest that a moderate amount of alcohol could boost libido in the short term. A low dose of alcohol increases testosterone levels in men, the hormone that increases sexual desire. However, elsewhere has shown small amounts of alcohol to have no detectable effect on sexual response. 

More notably, drinking alcohol is associated with enhanced mood and losing inhibitions; something that could precede sexual activity. While there’s scientific evidence for some of alcohol’s psychoactive properties, it’s not as effective as you might think.

Alcohol binds to receptors in the brain, increasing dopamine uptake and stimulating noradrenaline and endogenous opioids, which make drinkers feel rewarded, enlivened and carefree. However, it’s not necessarily an aphrodisiac — or even a disinhibitor. 

A study found no pharmacological basis for impulsive behaviour in inebriated individuals, suggesting this response is a placebo effect. This is supported by another study that found that even the false belief of ingesting alcohol led test subjects to report increased sexual arousal. In fact, studies found the social setting has a larger role to play in how alcohol affects mood — so your candlelit dinner could be helping more than the wine.

Taking it Further

So far, we’ve looked at the (limited) effects of alcohol on male libido when things go right. But, unfortunately, there are many ways it can go wrong. 

For starters, drinking too much alcohol can prevent you from getting an erection

  • Studies on this subject had hurdles to overcome (such as requiring voluntary control over erections), but nevertheless found alcohol had a discernable effect amongst moderate drinkers. These included circumference change and latency to change (i.e., how hard you get and how quickly). This is because drinking alcohol decreases blood flow to the penis and increases angiotensin, a hormone linked to erectile dysfunction.

Drinking too much alcohol can also cause delayed ejaculation — or prevent you from ejaculating at all

  • Delayed ejaculation is when it takes an extended period (30 minutes or more) of sexual stimulation to reach climax. This is partly because alcohol depresses the central nervous system, which dulls your senses, preventing you from getting as much enjoyment from sex. 

Unfortunately, that’s not where the negatives end. 

  • Alcohol also inhibits neuronal signalling, leading to a number of cognitive impairments, including impaired judgement. This accounts for the phenomena of “beer goggles”. One study found alcohol intake made test subjects see potential sexual partners as more attractive — but it gets more serious. 
  • Various studies found men are more likely to engage in sexually risky behaviour after a few drinks, such as unprotected sex. Studies show 60% of STDs are transmitted when alcohol is involved. Additionally, because alcohol can diminish sexual arousal, it can lead people to engage in more extreme behaviour to compensate, thereby risking their health.
  • Finally, alcohol can impair judgements about consent. Male test subjects perceived other people who were drinking alcohol to be more receptive towards sex. This, coupled with the fact that intoxicated people are more likely to interpret ambiguous behaviour as fitting their expectancies, can lead to false assumptions about consent to sex. 

While other links between heavy alcohol consumption and sexually aggressive behaviour are the subject of much study and debate, it’s vitally important to err on the side of caution.

The Long-Term Effects

With long-term abuse, alcohol and libido make for bad bed partners. 

There’s a large body of evidence indicating that alcoholism is associated with a range of sexual problems and dysfunctions in men including premature ejaculation, long-term erectile dysfunction, inhibited orgasm, and hypoactive sexual desire (i.e., low libido). In addition, long-term alcohol use can also negatively impact testosterone, affect fertility and reduce semen quality.

It, therefore, follows that long-term alcoholism negatively affects relationships, with alcohol abuse a common factor in couples seeking therapy for marital problems.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. 

Drinking alcohol in moderation has been confirmed by some studies to be good for your cardiovascular system, which can in turn help prevent erectile dysfunction. Additionally, experiencing the rare occurrence of lower libido or erectile dysfunction as a result of infrequent over-consumption of alcohol is unlikely to affect you in the long term. 

As with all advice concerning alcohol, moderation is key. 

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Key Takeaways

While (moderate) drinking can have a role to play in setting the scene for sex, a lot of its power is simply a placebo effect — and mixing alcohol with sex can go wrong. 

However, there are some steps you can take to keep things fun:

  1. Count your drinks: Set a limit and keep a note of what number drink you’re on (apps like DrinkControl or Drinkaware can help). This will help you prevent yourself from getting too drunk.
  2. Match your drinks with water: The delay between drinking alcohol and feeling its effects means you might inadvertently drink more than you want. Drinking water will slow you down while helping to prevent dehydration.
  3. Take a barrier: If you know you’ve got condoms, you’re less likely to risk unprotected sex. This is important to remember regardless of whether you’re engaging in oral, vaginal or anal sex.
  4. Listen: Don’t coerce anyone into sexual activity — and don’t feel pressured into doing anything you don’t want to, either.

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While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Further reading

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