Share via Email Cocktails are often given sexy names, but will they make you a better lover? It is common belief that alcohol helps us lose our inhibitions and can also act as an aphrodisiac sometimes!
There is a significant body of research that suggests alcohol is associated with heightened sexual response increased arousal and enhanced orgasm and loosening of sexual inhibitions. Historically, alcohol also has a long association with romance and sex in terms of advertising. On the other hand, alcohol is linked with an increase in risky sexual behaviours, which can result in unwanted pregnancy and sexual transmitted diseases.
Given these opposing effects, why do media articles tend to focus on the positive association between alcohol and sex, and what do the research studies behind the media stories tell us? Sex expert Dr Kat Van Kirk believes that drinking beer can lead to four distinct improvements in the sexual experience for males: A study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology reports on a meta-analysis of 13 studies looking at cardiovascular risk and beer consumption.
The findings suggest a J-shaped curve, suggesting a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in those who drink 55g of beer a day or less. It is important to note that this study did not actually measure sexual stamina, instead reduced cardiovascular risk was taken as a proxy. If the measure reflects pure ethanol, 55g of beer is equivalent to approximately 7 units or 3 and a half pints of fairly weak beer per day. This seems like a lot of alcohol to be consumed each day! This study examined the impact of alcohol use on male erectile dysfunction.
The Telegraph article did not provide a link to a peer reviewed article, but I found a study on this published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. It collected information from 1, men on erectile function, alcohol, and tobacco use. The study showed that following moderate alcohol consumption, levels of testosterone increased in women, but not men. This might be evidence of alcohol increasing the libido of women via a temporary surge in the male sex hormone. Despite being reported in The Independent this year, the research in question appears to come from a study published in Nature by Alko a large Finnish alcohol retailer in The research itself is a one-page report on an experimental study where men and women were given either an alcoholic beverage or a non-alcoholic juice, and hormone levels were measured although it is not clear how.
When controlling for contraceptive use and menstrual cycle which affects hormone levels alcohol increased testosterone compared with the placebo in women, but not men. There are a number of methodological questions that cannot be answered from the information in this short report - did the participants know if they were receiving an alcoholic or placebo beverage? In what conditions were participants tested? However, for me the biggest question is why would the media report on a study conducted over 20 years ago, which is a considerable amount of time in the fast moving world of scientific research?
Interestingly, the publication of the article in The Independent coincided with a press release for a new vodka by a company called Alko-plus. It is not clear whether this company is affiliated with Alko. In the press release, the vodka is specifically aimed at women, with claims made regarding the capability of alcohol to increase female libido: Reviewing these articles and the corresponding research studies has made me think about the issues involved in studying sex and alcohol and in reporting and interpreting research findings.
There are many complex individual differences in the psychological and physiological factors that influence the response to both sex and alcohol. The association between sex and alcohol is dependent upon alcohol dosage, alcohol expectancy, and measurement of alcohol and sexual behaviour. In terms of dose, there may be an optimal amount of alcohol to induce these positive effects on sexual arousal or performance.
Once past that threshold the effects may be more negative. This notion is supported by the biphasic nature of alcohol , with stimulant effects as blood alcohol concentration increases, but depressant effects as it decreases again.
Alcohol expectancy can also impact sexual behaviour during intoxication. Simply believing that drinking alcohol increases sexual arousal may lead to actual arousal during intoxication. Expectancies about alcohol consumption are a key element of research examining the effects of alcohol on any behaviour.
It is important that research determines the impact of both the direct pharmacological effects and expectation. Finally, the way alcohol use is measured can impact on the association with sexual behaviour. The administration of alcohol in an experimental study versus self-report of alcohol use by drinkers is likely to yield different study findings. Furthermore, it is very difficult to directly measure sexual behaviour. Most studies have to rely on self-report of sexual arousal and performance or use proxy measures such as cardiovascular and physiological function.
However, clear and honest reporting of research findings and at least a link to the original published study should allow the reader to make up their own mind when faced with the scientific evidence. Dr Sally Adams is a lecturer in health psychology at the University of Bath. Her research examines the cognitive and behavioural mechanisms underlying alcohol and tobacco use.
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