How Do Alcohol, Nicotine, and Recreational Drugs Impact Sexual Health?

Alcohol, nicotine, and recreational drugs are known to affect your health, but how do they affect your sexual health? The short answer is that they can all have a negative impact on sexual health and can cause or contribute to sexual dysfunction. The long answer is more complicated. Alcohol and some recreational drugs can lower inhibitions, (temporarily) increase your sex drive, and make sexual sensations more intense. However, they can also lead to risky sexual behaviors, increasing the risk of HIV, hepatitis C, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Here is what we know about the effect of alcohol, nicotine, and drugs on sexual health.

Key takeaways:
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    Alcohol, nicotine, and recreational drugs can impair sexual performance and sexual satisfaction.
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    Chronic alcohol, nicotine, or recreational drug use can cause sexual dysfunction, including low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and difficulty achieving orgasm.
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    Alcohol and drug use can lower your inhibitions and increase high-risk sexual behavior, such as not wearing a condom or not using birth control.
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    High-risk sex increases your odds of getting HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and unwanted pregnancy.

Alcohol, recreational Drugs, and risky behavior

The relationship between alcohol, drugs, and sex is complicated. Some people, especially young adults, report increased sexual arousal and more enjoyable sexual experiences when under the influence of alcohol, cannabis, and MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly), but this is not always the case. Substance use can cause sexual dysfunction and infertility as well as lead to a higher risk of getting STDs and unwanted pregnancy.

Alcohol and some recreational drugs can lower inhibitions. Alcohol is known to be a “social lubricant”; research has shown that moderate alcohol consumption can help ease social anxiety and improve social self-esteem in some people as well as enhance positive social experiences. However, alcohol and other intoxicating drugs that lower inhibitions can also lead to poor decision-making and increase risky sexual behaviors. This includes having unprotected sex (not using a condom or dental dam), having multiple sexual partners, and not using birth control.

Alcohol and sex

While alcohol may make it easier for some people to be comfortable in social situations, it can also impair sexual performance and sexual pleasure. Being intoxicated with alcohol (drunk) can make men and women behave more sexually towards their partners, but it can also cause sexual dysfunction in both men and women, including premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, and difficulty achieving orgasm.

Alcohol use can lower sex hormone levels in men and women. Low testosterone levels can cause sexual dysfunction and decrease sperm production in men. Chronic alcohol use can contribute to erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and a low sex drive. In women, chronic alcohol use can affect hormone levels, causing irregular menstrual periods and infertility. So, if you do drink, do so in moderation; your sex life will thank you.

Nicotine and sex

Nicotine is an addictive stimulant drug found in tobacco and tobacco alternatives. This includes cigarettes, cigars, snuff (dip), chewing tobacco, and electronic cigarettes as well as nicotine gum, lozenges, and transdermal patches used to help people stop smoking. Smoking and cardiovascular disease (which smoking contributes to) are risk factors for erectile dysfunction, a common sexual problem in men. Even in men who are not regular smokers, nicotine (even nicotine gum) can reduce sexual arousal. If you need another reason to quit smoking, remember that it may be harming your sex life.

Recreational drugs and sex

There are many recreational drugs out there, some of which are legal. Some people use recreational drugs to enhance the sexual experience, but do they actually work? Overall, recreational drugs impair sexual performance and sexual pleasure, especially with chronic use.

Stimulants

Stimulants, such as cocaine, amphetamines (speed),and methamphetamine (meth), can all temporarily boost your sex drive, but they can also have negative sexual side effects. Research has shown that both cocaine use and methamphetamine use can increase sexual desire as well as risky sexual behavior. Boosting your sex drive may seem like a positive effect, but not if it increases your chances of HIV, hepatitis C, and other dangerous STDs.

Opioids

Opioids, including prescription medications (e.g., morphine or oxycodone) and illicit drugs (e.g., heroin), can cause sexual dysfunction. In men, opioid use is associated with erectile dysfunction. Additionally, chronic opioid use (medical or recreational) can lower testosterone levels, causing sexual dysfunction in men and decreased sex drive in both men and women.

Psychedelics

Psychedelics are a group of drugs that are hallucinogens, including LSD (acid), psilocybin (magic mushrooms), mescaline (peyote), ketamine (special K/jet), and other drugs. Psychedelics can be found as street drugs, but are they can also be useful tools in psychiatric and psychological treatment, including treating sexual dysfunction with psychological causes. There is not much research into how psychedelics affect sexual function, but it is known that they can lower inhibitions and increase risky behaviors, just like other drugs do. Until more of the science is understood, hallucinogens and sex are probably not a good mix.

MDMA

MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) is a drug that is both a stimulant and a psychedelic. It has been a popular “club drug” for decades and is strongly associated with sex. MDMA can make you feel a sense of connection with others and can enhance physical sensations, but it can also impair judgment and have devastating effects on your body. MDMA use is just as risky as other recreational drugs and it can increase risky sexual behavior.

Understand the risks

Alcohol, nicotine, and recreational drugs can all negatively affect sexual health. Using alcohol, nicotine, or other drugs can contribute to sexual dysfunction, especially with chronic use. Most importantly, alcohol and drugs that lower inhibitions can increase high-risk sexual behaviors, increasing the risk of contracting STDs (including HIV and hepatitis C) and unwanted pregnancy. Although moderate, social use of alcohol may be a safe way for some people to increase their social self-esteem, intoxication can lead to poor judgment and regrettable sexual decisions. When making decisions about substance use and sex, be sure that you understand the risks to your sexual health and overall health.

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