Drunk on You: Alcohol Disinhibits, But At What Cost?

BlogHer Original Post

Recently, Femfresh, a company that manufactures feminine hygiene products, conducted a survey of 3,000 women in the United Kingdom between the ages of 18 and 50 and found that 75 percent of those who responded prefer to have sex after drinking. According to the results, the average respondent had had eight sexual partners, been drunk with five of them, and couldn't remember the names of two. A total of 150 women admitted they couldn't have sex sober.

The survey cannot be labeled conclusive due to its limited sample (3,000 women, and these are all users of the Femfresh product line) and the ambiguity of the words used to report the findings (when women responded they that preferred to have sex “after drinking,” do they mean after having a nice glass of wine with dinner or after finishing an entire bottle? What is their tolerance? Is this consumption a natural thing?). Despite these limitations these results suggest that a lot of women may need to get a little tipsy to get it going on and I find that disheartening.

I'm not here to moralize about other people's choices. If you've read me for any amount of time, you know that I don't believe in that method of interaction. I believe in stories, so I'm going to tell you mine, to give you a little background into why I feel the way I do.


An ex of mine e-mailed me a couple of days ago. He and I shared an incredible relationship—we were made of adventure and pleasure. We had no boundaries, we rode the wave right over the edge and into the abyss. His e-mail said that he had been thinking about our nights naked on a deserted beach. He asked, regarding the first night we danced on the sand under the stars, what we'd eaten that night. Was it shrimp?

I couldn't remember. I had been drunk. I had been drunk the first night I met him at a party at the house of a friend, too. I had been drunk afterward when we went dancing until sunrise. I had been drunk when he suggested to take me to his house afterward instead of dropping me off at my apartment. I had been drunk when I opened the car door, looked at the highway moving quickly under the car, and threatened to jump out unless he took me home.

I remember these things because I drunkenly wrote about them before I passed out. I think part of my obsession with chronicling everything stems from the fact that I believe that all of life's moments serve a purpose—they all have a lesson. And if we forget them, we lose that lesson.

For all the talk of how drugs fry your brain, there is very little talk about what alcohol can do to it. I started drinking with regularity when I was 16. Back then, it was high school fun, and usually involved throwing up. I was young; I thought my occasional hangovers were like battle scars, a key to Valhalla. By 22, I couldn't remember the last time I'd thrown up from drinking. I weighed a little over 100 pounds, but I could polish a bottle of Stoli by myself—and often did.

Blackouts became so common that I began writing to myself while I was drunk (thank God for computers, I have a hard enough time reading what I write without a drink). I wish my memory of the previous night had been the only thing I was in danger of forgetting. What I didn't realize until later is that alcohol doesn't just smudge short-term memory. I was born blessed with an incredible mind, a memory that was so close to photographic, I thought studying was cheating—if I didn't retain all the information I needed on the first go-around, I let myself take the grade I deserved.

My retention never failed me. Until 23. I've been sober for a handful of years and it's never come back. A woman in Alcoholics Anonymous once told me it would, with time. I believe her because I want it to be true. I believe her even if I can no longer remember a large percentage of the trivia that once made me so good at Trivial Pursuit. I believe her even if I can no longer remember where I read something that touched me. Or what channel I was on two seconds ago that had that cool show about black holes.

That's part of the reason I have continued chronicling my life for as long as I have and why I feel I can't afford to stop.

After reading my ex's e-mail, I disappeared into my archives. Our entire relationship was right there, stretched out, line after line. Line after line of things I would have never remembered on my own. We were drinking vodka on the night he mentioned, but I couldn't find any mention of what we had eaten that night. How many other things had fallen away into the cracks of the past?


Sex is an experience that means something different to everyone. To some it means love, to some it means connection, to some it means transcendence, to some it means pleasure, to some it means self-expression, to some it means a physical urge, and to some it means some other thing I have failed to mention.

Sex to me is much more than whether I cum or not. I'm not going to get into my spiritual views on sex or pontificate about The Connection between (or among) people. I'll leave that stuff to gurus, self-help columnists and our therapists. I'm going to stick with the most rudimentary aspect of sex and go from there.

Simply: I want to feel everything. And I want to remember it.


There is a beautiful, if terrifying, line in The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel: “When do friendships die? When they are forgotten. When does a city disappear? When it no longer exists in the memory of those who lived there.”

I want my friends to live and my cities to live and my lovers to live and my memories to live for as long as I do, as vibrantly as possible. For that, I need to experience them with clarity—which means not just sobriety, but focus. When I say focus, I don't mean concentration. I mean a turning over of myself to my sensory data.

Alcohol for a long time facilitated this release for me, but the side effect—its tendency to cloud my receptors—made the exercise pointless.

When was the last time you had sex with your senses? When was the last time you engaged every given receptor and really, truly experienced what that sense was telling you—not just whether something feels good or not, whether you want it harder, faster, deeper, but what it's registering?

When was the time you lived your sensory data?

I've said this before and I'll say it again: living through things is not the same as living those things.


“You have such an amazing ability to get into the moment,” a lover told me once, a little surprised. “I have never met anyone who disappeared like you. You don't disconnect—you become. You're receptive. You just take it in, pain or pleasure. You absorb. You become ecstatic.”

Yes and no. The overwhelming flow of information does lead to what one could call an altered state of awareness. But in my case, it's not internal. It involves the other person. I transcend myself and tune in with them.

When was the last time you transcended yourself (do I look good? Is this the best sex this person has had? Does he or she like me?) and let yourself experience the act on a multidimensional plane that's wholly yours but also greater than yourself?

Every day, we stand at the filters of our senses, concerned only with the final translation: hot or cold? Pleasure or pain? Sex god or bad lay? Nice or mean? Red or green? Too spicy? Too loud? Too big? Too slow! Hungry! Tired!

When was the last time we stopped and touched something and focused on the brush against our fingertips? When was the last time we turned off the constant background noise of our iPods and pressed down on a piano key to hear the clarity of a single note? When was the last time we paused briefly before putting that snack in our mouths and committed ourselves to savoring the marriage of flavors in a bite?

That's clarity. In clarity is pleasure, extraordinary pleasure. Sex without it, for me, is meaningless. And while I may do the occasional one-night stand, I do not do meaningless—ever.

This is why sex without alcohol wasn't something I feared when I stopped drinking. And this is the main reason I prefer to sleep with people who are entirely in their faculties as well.

That and I want to know they're there because they have chosen to be there with me and not because they've been momentarily hijacked by a good feeling that doesn't necessarily correspond to our interaction. That and I need to know that explosive passion is the result of our chemistry, of a desire that naturally exists inside us, and not something that needs a clutch to come out.

I want to feel, register and remember every touch, every sight, every sound, every smell, every taste. I want it all. And if you think about it, there is no greater tribute to a lover than that of memory. All the better if it lives in your mind and not in a digital archive.

This is why the results of the Femfresh survey are disheartening. Because they suggest so many lost moments and experiences and, if the team behind the survey is right in concluding that the need to drink is directly related to body image issues, a general inability to connect with the very receptors that make sex the wondrous thing our bodies are designed to experience.


Being Drunk Makes Everything OK by Amanda Reed: “It’s no secret that alcohol changes people. After a night of drinking, we’re often surprised by what we may or may not have done during a night of debauchery. Oftentimes we end up with great stories, but there are also those nights that leave us wondering how the hell we ended up on a stranger’s couch with only one shoe, a purse full of ping pong balls, and 17 new phone numbers in our phone (all listed under names like, “bathroom dude,” “cigarette guy,” and “hgjb52″).The truth is, alcohol lowers our inhibitions…and standards…for everything. We do things when we’re drinking that we’d never, ever, in a million years consider when we’re sober (like mixing ranch dressing and brownies).”

I've only had sex drunk: how do you have good sex sober? by Heather Corinna: “If you've had the idea that booze is the secret ingredient for great sex, you've probably been pretty seriously mistaken. If you've only had sex drunk, chances are good you haven't even HAD great sex yet, since alcohol can stand in the way of so much of what makes sex great, physically, intellectually and emotionally. So, if you're changing things up for the better and coming to sex sober, it's pretty likely you've got some good surprises in store for you! Sex sober is not only likely to be better for you in terms of the whole experience, lord knows the less often you get wasted, the better off your physical and mental health will be.”

Do you need to be drunk to have sex? by Julia Macmillan: “How sad if you can’t even remember what you did on the date you just went on. Women who lose control on a date are putting themselves in a vulnerable position not only from the point of view of the danger or rape, but also STDs and unwanted pregnancies. And the biggest irony of all is that if it is true that women need to drink before having sex because of lack of body confidence then alcohol is not your body’s friend. Heavy drinking does pile on the calories, affects your skin, not to mention your internal organs.”

Do women need to get drunk to have sex?by Mary Elizabeth Williams: “Lots of women drink. Lots of women have sex. Does it automatically follow that women need to drink to have sex? And is imbibing before bed the mark of a self-loather 'looking for a boost in self-esteem when it comes to bedroom antics,' as Lakeland says, or simply an uninhibited sensualist? Depends on the lady, of course, and maybe how close she lives to the Mediterranean.”


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