Alcohol, dating, and sex go together like peanut butter and jelly — or at least that's what mainstream society, dating in New York City in my early 20s, and every episode of "Sex and the City" taught me.
So when I reluctantly gave up alcohol at 27 because my use was starting to damage my life, some of my first thoughts were, "how will I go on dates without a cocktail to ease my nerves or celebrate at my wedding without champagne?"
Luckily, once I started dating again without my liquid courage, I was able to debunk a lot of the false beliefs I had about the importance of alcohol for intimacy.
It actually became easier for me to have healthy romantic relationships and be confident in the bedroom because for the first time, I wasn’t using alcohol to feel comfortable asking for what I wanted from my partner. I became more adventurous because I had the clarity to learn what I liked rather than fumbling around in a drunken, performative blur. Each sexual encounter brought me more confidence, and as a result, sex continued to get more creative and exciting for me.
Turns out, it isn't just my opinion that sex is more enjoyable without alcohol; there’s science to back this claim up. I spoke with experts in sobriety and sex to debunk some of the most common beliefs our society has taught us about alcohol and intimacy.
Myth: Sex is more pleasurable after drinking
Truth: Considering the first date suggestion is often "grabbing a drink," wine is usually the beverage of choice for romantic evenings, and we may feel more attracted to our Hinge match once we've put on our beer goggles, it's no wonder many of us believe alcohol makes sex more pleasurable. It's a message we learn at a young age that’s consistently reinforced in our society.
But is the enhanced experience we think alcohol is providing us real? According to licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist Dr. Kate Balestrieri, drinking can often make it seem like we're having more fun than we are in reality because it's a disinhibiting agent. However, "alcohol changes a person's physiological response during sex, which can lead to discomfort, pain, dysfunction, and even fear or regret," said Dr. Balestrieri, who is the founder of Modern Intimacy and House of Wise's resident sex expert.
Combining drinking with intimacy can create obstacles for both men and women. "Alcohol dulls the sensation in your body, which actually decreases sensitivity and your ability to find sex pleasurable," said Amanda White, LPC and founder of Therapy for Women.
While we may mentally feel more turned on once inebriated, our bodies don’t always agree with us. "Females produce less lubrication, making sex less pleasurable, and men are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation," said White.
Myth: Drinking makes you more confident
Truth: When I was in college, never in a million years would I have approached a guy sober, but once I had a few dollar beers flowing in my bloodstream, I’d beeline for the first attractive man I saw and introduce myself. After multiple years alcohol-free, I've come to realize that only after I stopped using alcohol to be confident was I actually able to become truly confident. I learned I don’t need anything but myself to go after what I want.
"Alcohol doesn’t give you true courage or confidence," said White, author of the new book, "Not Drinking Tonight." According to White, the reason you might feel less self-conscious is because alcohol turns off your prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for thinking through possibilities, like potential rejection from a romantic interest. White credits the "beer goggles" phenomenon to the impaired judgment and reduced inhibitions alcohol creates.
I used to think liquid courage was a requirement to connect with a date, but once I got sober I realized true courage doesn't come from a bottle. I found true courage from being my authentic self, rather than altering who I was with drugs to be the person I thought others wanted me to be.
"Alcohol gives the illusion of confidence," said Dr. Balestrieri. "The chemically induced swagger can be a catalyst for behavior that is off-putting, against your own values, or a distraction from authentic connection. Staying authentic without alcohol gives you a chance to work though those vulnerabilities, in a way that is authentic and sustainable."
Sober sex and relationships writer Tawny M. Lara views choosing not to drink in a world where everyone else is as the real act of bravery. "Liquid courage is BS," said Lara. "Seriously, just cutting back on alcohol in a 'Rosé All Day' culture takes courage. Channel THAT confidence in the bedroom!"
Myth: Alcohol facilitates sexual connection
Truth: As someone who actually went home with a man she thought looked like Ryan Gosling only to wake up the next day and realize she was very wrong, I can confirm that even though sex may feel right after multiple tequila shots, you may not make the same decision clear-headed. "Alcohol blurs the lines of consent and is a huge contributor to people making poor decisions such as not using protection," said White.
Not only does alcohol blur the lines of consent and contribute to impulsive decisions you wouldn't make sober, but it also compromises your ability to connect with yourself because (as mentioned above), it shuts down the part of your brain that makes thoughtful decisions. There's no way of knowing if you'll regret the decision tomorrow once your prefrontal cortex comes back online.
And if you're not really connected to yourself and are making decisions you wouldn't make if you weren't under the influence, how are you truly able to know if you have an authentic connection with someone you've only interacted with drunk?
"Shared intensity is often mistaken for connection, but a shared affective state is not the same as an authentic emotional or sexual connection," said Dr. Balestrieri. "Alcohol use can lead to impaired judgment, which can inflate the fantasy of a connection and result in a big drop when you sober up."
Myth: Alcohol is the only product I can use to enhance my sexual experience
Truth: From toys and tinctures to lubricants and lingerie, there are so many tools available today that can keep your sex life fresh and actually enhance your body's receptivity to pleasure, rather than numbing it like alcohol does. Personally, it wasn't until I got sober that I actually started exploring all the natural ways to enhance my pleasure, rather than unknowingly numbing myself to the experience like I did with alcohol.
Lara discovered the powers of natural aphrodisiacs after she quit drinking and now makes her own herbal tinctures with damiana, blue lotus, and ashwagandha, which can increase sex drive. I personally love House of Wise's Sex Kit, which includes sex gummies and serum.
Myth: Sober sex is boring
Truth: When I was newly sober, one of my biggest fears was having sex without alcohol because I believed drinking was the only way to unlock a sexier, more uninhibited version of myself. It made sense that I believed this because I was drunk for almost every first sexual interaction from ages 18 to 27, so I had almost a decade of experiences to validate my belief.
"When you're used to any activity in an alcohol-induced state, the same behavior without alcohol can feel less exciting at first," said Dr. Balestrieri. "However, remaining sober during sex gives you the opportunity to stay present with your sensations. A deeper mind-body connection and deeper partner connection (if you're having partnered sex) can create a receptivity to physical pleasure and emotional awareness previously dulled by alcohol, if you lean into it."
I found it easy to act wild with partners — even strangers I had just met that night — in the bedroom after hours of bar hopping, but if they wanted to be physical the next morning in the sobering light of day, I felt shy, nervous, and typically wanted the experience to be over as quickly as possible.
When I quit drinking, I realized not only did I enjoy sober sex, I actually preferred clear-headed coitus over a blurry night with patchy memories of messy makeouts. Without alcohol, I remembered every wonderful moment of my sexual encounters and discovered there are far better lubricants for intimacy than tequila.
"One of the biggest misconceptions I hear about sober sex is that it’s boring," said Lara. "And I totally get that. We all have sexual hangups that can be momentarily turned off by booze. But that confidence is just as fleeting as that beer buzz. Sober sex requires you to be present with yourself and with others."
Rather than drinking to make sex more exciting, try reframing your perspective and identify other ways to naturally make the experience fun. If you view alcohol-free intimacy as an opportunity to discover more about what you and your significant other enjoy, you'll have the potential to learn from the experience, grow your confidence, and build a deeper connection with your partner.
Author Molly Ruggere is a certified life coach who works privately with individuals to help them find freedom from alcohol — without willpower, shame, or labels — so they can find true confidence and achieve their goals. Learn more and book a free consultation call with Molly here.