Health

Yes, alcohol can cause erectile dysfunction — here’s what to do if you or your partner experience ‘whiskey dick’

Summary List Placement"Whiskey dick", or alcohol-related erectile dysfunction, occurs when a person can't get or maintain an erection due to intoxication. A 2018 study reports that erectile dysfunction is the most common sexual dysfunction among people with penises, occurring more frequently than low libido and ejaculation disorders. "People with penises can have episodes of erectile dysfunction when they are drunk. This most likely occurs due to a combination of decreased sensitivity to the penis and lack of good input from the brain to the penis because of high alcohol levels," says Stanton Honig, MD, director of the Men's Health Program...

alcohol erections

Summary List Placement

“Whiskey dick”, or alcohol-related erectile dysfunction, occurs when a person can’t get or maintain an erection due to intoxication. A 2018 study reports that erectile dysfunction is the most common sexual dysfunction among people with penises, occurring more frequently than low libido and ejaculation disorders.

“People with penises can have episodes of erectile dysfunction when they are drunk. This most likely occurs due to a combination of decreased sensitivity to the penis and lack of good input from the brain to the penis because of high alcohol levels,” says Stanton Honig, MD, director of the Men’s Health Program at Yale Medicine Urology.

The brain communicates sexual response and triggers changes in the blood flow to the penis, but alcohol can disrupt this. Here’s what you should know about the effect of alcohol on sexual function, how to avoid whiskey dick, and how to address it during sex.

Why “whiskey dick” is real and what research says about it

Sexual behavior and response are moderated by the brain, which means that the nervous system affects desire, arousal, and orgasm. Central nervous system disorders, like multiple sclerosis, can cause types of sexual dysfunction including erectile dysfunction.

Alcohol increases the risk for sexual dysfunction because it depresses the central nervous system, which affects brain function, reaction time, and coordination. It also decreases blood flow to the penis, and as a result, can prevent or stop an erection from forming.

“Heavy alcohol intoxication will affect nerve function leading to decreased sensation. In addition, heavy alcohol use can affect attention or mindfulness so men will not be focused on achieving orgasm,” says Judson Brandeis, MD, urologist and owner of Brandeis MD.

Although there aren’t studies about whiskey dick in particular, a 2007 study conducted in India concluded that chronic and persistent alcohol use increases the risk of sexual dysfunction, like difficulties in getting or maintaining an erection as well as achieving orgasm.

However, much more research is needed to understand the prevalence and effect of alcohol use on erectile dysfunction. 

How many drinks does it take to mess with your erection?

There’s no specific number of drinks that can trigger whiskey dick because alcohol affects each individual differently. Your body’s response to alcohol depends on plenty of factors like body weight, type of alcoholic drink, genetics, age, and more.

Although it’s called whiskey dick, whiskey is not the only culprit. According to Brandeis, “any drink that increases blood alcohol level can create this situation, and the number of drinks varies by tolerance and body size.”

If you’re intoxicated and you manage to maintain an erection, you may experience delayed ejaculation, which means that it might take you longer to orgasm, if at all. Alcohol consumption can also dampen libido and reduce orgasm intensity.

You should be careful when drinking and having sex because alcohol puts you at risk for unprotected sex and sexually transmitted infections says Brandeis. 

Keep in mind that taking medications or sildenafil (aka Viagra) while drinking is not recommended and can cause lightheadedness, headaches, or vomiting. 

What to say if you or your partner is unable to have an erection

“Admitting you aren’t able to maintain an erection because you’ve had too much to drink can be embarrassing and difficult for a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be,” says Cheyenne Taylor, LMSW, a sex therapist at Manhattan Alternative Wellness Collective.

In case you or your partner experiences whiskey dick, experts recommend the following tips:

  • Be honest with your partner: These things happen, so be upfront that you’re having difficulty because you’ve had too much to drink. “If a person is concerned about offending or upsetting a partner, it can also be helpful to express that the inability to perform is not due to lack of desirability or attraction,” she adds.
  • Take a moment: Alcohol dehydrates the body, so take the time to drink water and/or electrolyte solutions (like sports drinks) because whiskey dick may subside when you sober up. Waiting until you’re not under the influence of alcohol can also help you make informed decisions, like giving consent.
  • Explore your options: The inability to get or maintain an erection doesn’t have to mark the end of your night. You can still do other activities that don’t require an erection as long as you have the consent of your partner. “This may even be a good chance to explore something different and new. Don’t be afraid to ask or suggest new ways to ‘sexplore’ if things don’t go as expected,” says Taylor.
  • Listen to your body: Whiskey dick may be your body’s way of telling you that you aren’t quite ready to have sex yet, says Taylor. Listen to your body and maybe put off sex for the night.

Societal expectations around sexual performance and masculinity are a major factor why whiskey dick tends to be an awkward situation, says Taylor. It’s important to establish a safe space between you and your partner where you can comfortably talk about normal sexual occurrences.

How to prevent alcohol-related erectile dysfunction 

The best way to avoid whiskey dick is to refrain from drinking too much alcohol before having sex. If you do drink, here are some tips to keep yourself from getting too intoxicated:

  • Limit your alcohol intake and drink moderately, about two drinks or less. 
  • Eat before you drink, because food can prevent your body from absorbing the alcohol too quickly.
  • Pace yourself and alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks like water, juice, or soda.
  • Don’t mix alcohol with any medications, which can put you at risk for breathing difficulties and internal bleeding.

Insider’s takeaway

Whiskey dick occurs when you’re too intoxicated to get or maintain an erection during sex. Alcohol affects the central nervous system, impairing brain function and decreasing blood flow to the penis.

The number of drinks it takes to affect your erection depends on your alcohol tolerance. Any alcoholic drink can trigger alcohol-related erectile dysfunction and the only way to avoid it is to refrain from drinking alcohol before sex.

When you or your partner has whiskey dick, just be honest about it and take a break. “Laugh about it and move on to something that makes you feel good. Bodies are wild, they can’t always function in the ways we’d like them to and it is an unsustainable expectation to think otherwise,” says Taylor.

10 common questions about erectile dysfunction, answeredWhat the average penis size is and if partners actually think bigger is betterHow to recognize and treat the symptoms of mild, severe, or chronic dehydrationLearn how to prolong sexy time with these 5 foreplay tips, recommended by sex therapists

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