How Does Alcohol Impact Women's Libido?
By Jennifer Olejarz
Posted: October 06, 2022
It’s a widely held belief that drinking alcohol increases sexual desire, arousal, and pleasure. In many studies, over 60% of women said alcohol enhanced their enjoyment of sex. Interestingly, while subjectively women believe this to be true, alcohol actually lowers physiological arousal.
How alcohol affects libido
When alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream a variety of physical effects begin. Your skin may flush, you feel warmer, and your heart rate may go up. Men feel these same effects but they often interpret them differently.
Some research shows that men take these physiological effects as sexual feelings, along with strength and power. Women, on the other hand, may interpret them as affection, emotional connection, and sexual arousal.
These physical sensations can be one reason why men and women believe alcohol increases sexual arousal. Overall, it’s more to do with the psychological belief than the physical effect that can make these sensations lead to more sexual activity.
Acute effects of alcohol on libido
Although women think alcohol increases sexual pleasure, studies show that physiological arousal and the ability to have an orgasm decrease with drinking. As blood alcohol levels rise, physiological responses diminish.
Some of the reasons for the difference in perception and actual physical response may be:
1) Psychological disinhibition
Disinhibition is when people give in to impulses more easily, regardless of societal norms or risks of negative outcomes. Since it’s a commonly held belief that alcohol makes you disinhibited, it can be used as a sort of excuse or push to do things you wouldn’t normally do.
2) Pharmacological disinhibition
This is when disinhibition takes over due to substances and their chemical effect on the brain and body (like drugs or alcohol).
3) Interpreting body changes as arousal rather than the effects of alcohol
The central nervous system is affected when drinking and it causes changes like an increased heart rate and warmer skin. People can take that as a sign of attraction or arousal rather than alcohol's chemical effect on the body.
4) Learned behavioral responses
People may associate drinking with high sexual activity, as seen in movies and TV shows. This can be used as an incentive to become more initiative and sexually open when drinking.
5) Expectations of alcohol’s bodily effects
With the perception that alcohol makes sex more arousing and enjoyable, women may be more interested in taking part in sexual activity.
6) Inaccurate measurement of physical arousal in research
Many studies measure vaginal blood flow and lubrication. Inaccurate measurements or other limitations may be possible.
Chronic, slight and moderate alcohol use
Drinking lightly and moderately hasn’t shown any great effects on physiological points like genital vessels and lubrication. This is just one example of how mindful drinking can help you maintain the physical health of your libido.
Drinking lightly and moderately is classified as:
- Light drinkers: 1-10 drinks per month
- Moderate drinkers: 11-20 drinks per month
While light drinkers experience fewer effects, a moderate amount of alcohol may lead to an increase in sexual activities. Again, this can be purely because of psychological and social disinhibition or the perception that alcohol makes sex more pleasurable. Expectations have a huge impact on how people behave.
There was also a surprising finding that alcohol may lead women to initiate less sexual activity. This is because alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. This may decrease the sensations that spark women to seek out sexual experiences.
Heavy and chronic drinking
The statistics of libido and sexual health in chronic and heavy drinkers differ greatly from light and moderate ones. Among alcoholic women, 64% said they couldn’t orgasm, around 50% lacked lubrication, and about 25% said that intercourse was painful.
Compared to non alcoholic women, the percentages were much lower. About 27% of women had a hard time having an orgasm, 24% lacked lubrication, and 9% reported that intercourse was painful.
Research also shows an association between a variety of sexual dysfunction problems and heavy drinking. These sexual dysfunction issues are usually a predictor of problem drinking and increase the likelihood of developing alcohol dependence.
Women who drink heavily also tend to have more gynaecological issues. Due to the widely held belief that drinking enhances pleasure and reduces pain, alcohol can become a sort of self-medication to deal with the painful issue.
Sexual activity in heavy drinkers
Overall, epidemiological studies have found that heavy drinkers tend to be more sexually active with more sexual partners than light and non-drinkers. They also report participating in sexual activity with more variety and sexual pleasure. One reason can be that heavy drinkers believe in the expectancy that they’ll become more assertive with drinking.
College women who classify as heavy drinkers also tend to engage in more sexual activity and use less contraception than non-drinkers or moderately drinking young women. Unsafe sexual practices may increase with drinking because of sexual disinhibition.
Limitations of the research
A bias is a possibility that people who take part in sex research may be less sexually inhibited than the general population. This could mean that the women who took part in the studies and admitted to more sexual activity and partners were accepting of their sexuality and didn’t associate it with conflict or guilt.
The psychological effect of alcohol on more sexually inhibited women as a disinhibitor may be enough to override the physiological depressant effect of alcohol. This means that women who aren’t entirely comfortable with their sexuality may have alcohol and sexual initiation more positively correlated.
Mindfulness and libido
Taking steps to be more mindful overall can improve a women’s sexual response, especially if they’re experiencing any sexual desire or arousal issues. This is because mindfulness helps you to be more present and fully experience the moment. It requires training that takes time, but overall, it can help you become more comfortable with your sexuality and allow you to completely immerse yourself in the sexual experience.
The heightened awareness can also help you to notice and enjoy psychological connections or physiological sensations that were previously missed. For example, non or light-drinking women who experience orgasms report more mindfulness than women who don’t.
How mindful drinking helps reduce stress and increase your libido
If alcohol is a typical stress response, mindfulness training helps decrease that automatic reaction to drinking alcohol. When you become more mindful, a change occurs in how you experience your emotions and environment. This is called "decentering" and helps you better observe and accept how you’re feeling, rather than immersing yourself in your emotions and letting them take control.
When you do this, your automatic reactions decrease, like turning to alcohol less when experiencing negative emotions like stress. The relationship between your impulses and your reactions changes, which helps you avoid old automatic habits.
Mindfulness training is especially effective for people motivated to drink less. Still, as it works to help you reduce impulsivity and accept rather than avoid emotions, surprisingly, it can have an effect either way.
Sunnyside teaches mindful drinking
If you’re curious about how becoming more mindful with your drinking can help your overall health and libido, Sunnyside offers a free 15-day trial to help you build healthier habits - no pressure attached. Our blog showcases the newest research and advice on mindful drinking to keep you in the loop while the app lets you personalize your goals and become more aware of your habits. Check out our reviews and take the 3-minute quiz to learn how Sunnyside can help you feel your best.Take the 3-min quiz
Jennifer is a Nutritionist and Health Counselor specializing in emotional and mindful eating, weight loss, and stress management. She has degrees in both Psychology and Nutrition from Western University, Canada. You can learn more about Jennifer at her website.