It’s date night, so you crack open a bottle, right? But if it’s great sex you’re after, step away from the corkscrew, as research shows that consuming less alcohol leads to greater intimacy with your partner and better orgasms…
Words by Beth Gibbons
‘The only time that I really talk properly to my partner is when we go out for dinner,’ says Grace, 34, a solicitor. ‘The wine will flow and we’ll both open up in a way that we don’t normally do. I always feel closer to him and, yes, that’s usually when we end up having sex.’
So far, so true for so many long-term couples. After 18 months in a relationship, the balance naturally shifts to a phase where women generally need more of a trigger to have sex than their testosterone-fuelled male partners – such as an intimate conversation. ‘Having a heart to heart is a huge aphrodisiac for women,’ says psychologist Simon Parritt, ‘and that may be more likely when you’ve both had a couple of drinks.’ This could be part of the reason why, in a recent survey, one in ten couples questioned admitted that they hadn’t had sober sex in six months.
And another reason that drink puts you in the mood, psychologically, is association. ‘Our first tastes of alcohol tend to coincide with our early sexual experiences,’ says Parritt, ‘so it’s likely that the brain forges an association between alcohol and sex from an early age’.
Physically, though, the consequences of drinking for your sex life tell a different story. Because it’s not only men whose performance is lowered by booze – women are adversely affected, too. And this means that the rewards of abstaining from alcohol could be quite literally orgasmic.
A study in the Journal of Sex Research found that while women verbally reported experiencing greater sexual arousal after drinking, physiologically, an increased blood concentration of alcohol was associated with an impaired response. ‘Alcohol takes away inhibitions,’ explains Dr David Goldmeier, a consultant in sexual medicine, ‘but, because it is a depressant, it can also dampen the sexual response and is associated with decreased intensity of orgasm.’
So why do we persist in knocking back the Merlot? Hectic lives mean that we rarely have time to unwind properly in the evenings – which is, ideally, what’s required for sex, admits Parritt. ‘So a glass of wine provides a quick shortcut.’
Sexual hang-ups can also drive us to the bottle. ‘A lot of women drink to get over their intimacy issues,’ points out psychologist Natalie Thomas. ‘So, sex without that Dutch courage can make them feel extremely vulnerable. But it’s worth persevering. Not only will you grow together as a couple, but the experience can also be so much more erotic.’
Emma, 29, a copywriter, put this theory to the test when she gave up drinking alcohol as part of a detox. ‘At first, the thought of sex stone-cold sober terrified me,’ she says. ‘I felt like a virgin, But actually there was something really thrilling about it all. I definitely found it much easier to have an orgasm when I was sober. And I always feel closer to my husband afterwards – as opposed to just hung-over.’
So, better sex is not the only reward for abstinence – your relationship will benefit too. Thomas explains how this works. ‘There’s a big difference between having sex and making love,’ she says. ‘When you’ve been drinking, you tend to just have sex. It’s more instinctive; you feel less aware of your partner’s feelings and needs. There’s room for both options in your relationship, but the physical and psychological connection that comes from love-making is a crucial part of bonding as a couple.’
For many people, though, drunken sex is a hard habit to break. The trick, explains Dr Ann Clark, is to remove alcohol from the equation altogether. She suggests scheduling some activities to do together that don’t involve getting legless, or even mildly tipsy: ‘A stroll after work, a trip to the cinema or theatre – anything that doesn’t involve alcohol, to help you connect as sober beings.’
Georgia Foster, a hypnotherapist and creator or howtodrinkless.com, agrees: ‘Alcohol silences the inner critic that tells us we look dreadful naked or we’re no good in bed,’ she says, ‘so the brain holds on to that association. The key is to build your confidence outside of sex and alcohol. Do things that make you feel great about yourself (that 10k run you’ve been putting off), and connected as a couple (the city break you’ve been fantasizing about). Then build up to sober flirting (sending sexy text messages during the day, wearing your tightest skirt for no reason…). Bit by bit, you’ll be giving your subconscious the message that you don’t need alcohol to feel sexy; that your partner loves you for who you are, not how you look naked.’
Other ways to silence the negative chatter include meditation, yoga and t’ai chi. Dr Goldmeier explains: ‘Practicing mindfulness teaches you to recognize negative thoughts and to consciously put them to one side. This allows you to truly enjoy the sexual moment – and without the hangover.’
It’s not all just about sex, either. There’s a health issue concerning the tolerance to alcohol that you build up if you rely on it in this way. ‘If you need alcohol to get you in the mood for sex, you’re likely to drink more and more each time,’ says Professor Paul Wallace of Drinkaware. ‘In the long term, this can lead to dependency, not to mention risk of sexual dysfunction, fertility issues and liver damage.’ With 80 per cent of us routinely drinking more than the recommended daily limit, this is definitely worth thinking about. The latest health guidelines recommend no more than two to three units a day (that’s a medium glass of wine), as well as at least two alcohol-free days a week.
And as an incentive for cutting back, it’s hard to beat better sex. Sparkling water anyone? We say yes! Yes! Yes!
GET IN THE MOOD FOR SOBER SEX AND BETTER ORGASMS
What are you waiting for? Put down that glass and…
1. Slip on your sexiest outfit, or send a saucy text for no reason: you’ll be telling your subconscious that you don’t need alcohol to feel sexy.
2. Start training for a 10k run together, doing things that make you feel great as a couple will build sexual confidence away from booze.
3. Go to the movies, or take a walk along the river holding hands: any activity where you connect as sober beings will foster intimacy. Your brain may associate alcohol and sex, but it is a habit that can be broken.
4. Meditate, do yoga or practice t’ai chi. Mindfulness tunes out negative thoughts, promotes confidence and helps you to enjoy the sexual moment.
5. Tune in to your partner’s feelings and needs with a clear head: the physical and psychological connection that comes with love making – as opposed to just having sex – is a vital part of bonding.