When it comes to alcohol pairings, most of us know that white wine goes well with fish, but does any alcohol pair well with sex? The answer is yes, for some, and with a few important caveats.
For some people, mixing alcohol and sex has important upsides. At least one study found that many women report a higher level of sexual desire when drinking, and it’s a known thing that some guys drink a little to help maintain an erection for a longer roll in the hay. Plus, of course, there’s the way alcohol can help people talk about what they really want in bed.
With so many good reasons to drink and shag, it’s no wonder people do it all the time. But just like you wear your seatbelt in the car, you should be taking steps to do it safely—or at least as safely as reasonably possible. There’s no fully safe way to drink alcohol—with or without sex—any more than there’s a completely safe way to ride in a car. But if you follow these basic steps, you’ll be much less likely to have a negative outcome and much more likely to have a good one.
Avoid mixing sex and alcohol with new partners.
It would be unrealistic and a little unfair to suggest you don’t drink at all with a new partner. An Alcohol.org survey found that 86% of people drink on a first date and that they were significantly more likely to go on a second date if they had 1-2 drinks during the first one. But there are also plenty of reasons to be cautious, even according to that same survey which found that anything more than three drinks had the worst results.
There are so many things that can go wrong when having sex with a new partner, and having more than a drink or two only increases the chances. If you’re hoping your new sexual partner will blossom into something more—like an Instagram-official relationship or even just a regular fuck-buddy—you probably want to be your best self during a first sexual encounter. If you’re anything beyond buzzed, that’s almost guaranteed not to happen.
Just like people say and do weird things when alcohol is involved, their sexual functions change, too. Anyone with a penis may not be able to get or keep an erection (a.k.a. “Whiskey dick,” yes, it’s real), and anyone with a vagina may end up a little on the dry side (yep, also real). And while there are plenty of work-arounds for both those issues—hello, oral sex and lube!—when you’re with a new partner and especially when you’ve been drinking together, you’re much more likely to fumble the transition or say an insensitive thing that can’t be unsaid.
Assuming you manage to stick the landing on all the functional mechanics of sex, if you’re drinking with a new partner, an even bigger risk—the biggest risk of all, perhaps—is that you will miss the moment when your partner wants to stop. Research confirms that when alcohol is involved, people are more likely to misread or ignore their partner’s signals related to consent. In other words, your partner indicates that she doesn’t want to continue, and even though you technically hear what she’s saying, it doesn’t register and you make a mistake that devastates two lives.
Misreading signals can, of course, happen while sober or with a regular sex partner, but it’s much, much more likely when you’ve been drinking and when you’re with someone new since you won’t be familiar with what “I’m not into this” looks like for them.
Have a sober conversation about “sex”pectations.
What are you into? What you are up for while drinking? Before a single drop of limoncello hits either of your lips, a little communication will go a long way toward ensuring a positive, mutually pleasurable experience.
Not sure what to talk about? Start with why you’re mixing sex and booze in the first place. Maybe getting tipsy helps you have the most mind-blowing orgasms. Or maybe you’re a “wine with dinner” type who likes dessert in the bedroom. Whatever your reasons, the more your partner understands your motivation, the better equipped they’ll be able to help you achieve whatever you’re after. And the reverse is also true—by knowing what your partner wants, you’ll be more likely to help them achieve it, too.
You should also chat with your partner about what you want to do, or try, and how much experience you have doing that thing. Want to be tied up for the first time? While sober, you and your partner may decide to only mix handcuffs and tequila once you’re comfortable with light bondage. If you bring up the same desire after a few drinks, on the other hand, you two may decide to try it right then—after all, alcohol lowers inhibitions—and in your clumsy, slightly inebriated state, you’ll be more likely to make rookie mistakes that could leave either of you feeling uncomfortable or even scarred.
None of this is a guarantee, of course. More than one person has drunkenly suggested a new position that ended up feeling awesome for both parties. But that outcome is less likely when booze is involved, so if you want to limit risk and strengthen your proverbial seatbelt, you’ll use your words before your genitals.
Practice enthusiastic consent.
To help avoid any misunderstandings when it comes to consent during sex—sober, buzzed, or completely sloshed—you should only proceed after your partner has clearly agreed in the form of a “hell yes” or equivalent, an approach known as enthusiastic consent. But even if you get an affirmative “Yes, I definitely want this,” that doesn’t mean you’re fully covered.
If your partner has been drinking, depending on where you live, state law may consider them legally unable to give consent. That means that even if you get a “yes” in the moment, the law may consider it a “no” after the fact.
Combined with the previous advice—being with a familiar partner and discussing your sexpectations while sober—getting your partner’s enthusiastic consent and giving yours in return won’t lead to zero risk, but it will make it much, much less likely that a “yes” today will translate to a “no” tomorrow.
Pacing yourself when drinking is generally good advice, so it follows that when you add a side of sex, it’s still good to go slow. If you drink too much too fast, you’ll have to wait at least an hour or two, maybe longer, to feel less drunk. By then you may start to feel hangover symptoms like headaches and nausea, making it unpleasurable to continue with sex, assuming you still want to at all.
On the other hand, it’s easy enough to drink more if you need it to reach your bliss-state. The rule of thumb is simple: if you want more, you can always have it but if you drink too much, well, you may end up bent over the toilet—and not in a good way.
If you’re set up for success, relax and enjoy.
Whether sober or buzzed, sex is meant to be fun, and the whole point of mixing sex and alcohol is to enhance the pleasure. So if you’ve followed the previously-stated tips—you’re with a familiar partner, you’ve discussed your mutual sexpectations, you’re practicing enthusiastic consent, and you’ve paced yourself—the most important thing left to do is lay back, get on top, or roll over and enjoy the ride.
Got your champagne handy? You’re now ready to pop the cork while, you know, popping the cork.
P.S. All of this advice assumes you have a healthy relationship with alcohol. If you’re not sure what your relationship is with alcohol or think it may be problematic, you can learn more at Alcohol.org.