How Drugs & Alcohol Really Impact Our Sex Lives

There are certain tropes in movies and TV when it comes drugs, alcohol, and sex. Typically, a night of heavy drinking results in an unwanted pregnancy, an STD, or an awkward morning-after when the star realizes that they slept with their friend (or their new boss.) An impulse to try drugs, or stories about addicts, often include storylines about sexual assault.
While these tropes can seem tired, a new study points to why these are the stories we see so often when drugs and alcohol are connected to sex — because they happen in real life.
The data scientists at Addictions.com — a hotline for people struggling with drug or alcohol dependency — surveyed more than 2,000 people about how drugs and alcohol have shaped their sexual experiences. Their first big finding? About 47% of people said they had sex with someone they definitely wouldn't have if they were sober.
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Image courtesy of Addictions.com
That may be where the sex-with-your-friend or sex-with-your-boss stories come from. In a report about their findings, Addictions.com reminds us that drugs and alcohol also increase the risk of contracting a STI.
But don't worry — there's no slut shaming here. It's not because drugs and alcohol cause people to have sex with multiple partners, the site says, but because these substances actually weaken your immune system — which means you're less likely to fight off an infection.
The research also found that drinking or using drugs cause unwanted pregnancies for 13.23% of respondents, that 22.65% of those who took the survey cheated on their partners while under the influence, and that drugs and alcohol caused a lot of performance problems such as, you know, premature ejaculation.
Image courtesy of Addictions.com
In fact, 12.63% of male respondents said that they ejaculated too quickly after drinking or doing drugs. And 32.84% of women said that they couldn't have an orgasm. Even more men (38.09%) couldn't get an erection at all, and 11.61% of women experienced vaginal dryness. [Note: the study doesn't say whether any respondents identified as transgender, gender non-conforming, or non-binary.]
Among women, the study also found that one in 10 reported being sexually assaulted while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The site gives an example from Bachelor In Paradise — earlier this year, the show shut down production after multiple reports that contestant DeMario Jackson was allegedly filmed having a sexual encounter with a woman who may have been too drunk to consent. Consent is difficult to define after a person has been drinking or doing drugs, the study says, though that certainly doesn't mean that sexual assault when all partners had been drinking doesn't count.
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So while movies like Knocked Up (in which Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen's characters get drunk, have sex, and accidentally conceive a baby) are often played for laughs and pretty much always end on a happy note, Addictions.com reminds us that reality isn't quite as happy.
"From the chance encounters that can evolve into instances of sexual abuse, unexpected sexual partners, or even unplanned pregnancies — excessive drinking in social situations can be dangerous," the site says.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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