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Dear Sexpert, 

Houseparties are coming up this weekend, and my girlfriend and I will be at our club. I’m worried about not being able to get it up after drinking. We haven’t been dating for that long, and my fear of this has been stopping me from drinking much because I want to impress her in bed. But I know I’ll want to drink during formals. Is there anything I can do to avoid potential performance issues?

— Mr. Whiskey Dick

Dear Whiskey Dick,

Yes! You can have plenty of fun, both at formals and afterwards, without drinking. But if you choose to drink, you can avoid potential performance issues by keeping your blood alcohol content at or below .055. At about .06, sexual performance and sexual pleasure will be lowered. Research shows that the point of diminishing return for the optimal overall experience from drinking is a BAC of .055 or less. There are BAC calculators on the Internet that can guide how many drinks over what amount of time will help keep you at .055 or less. The Princeton StandBy website, bystander.princeton.edu, is a great place to learn about BAC and drink size.

It’s very common for men to have difficulty getting or maintaining an erection after drinking alcohol. An erection is the result of blood flow to the tissue in the penis, which makes the penis grow and stiffen. Alcohol, which is a depressant, impairs reflexes and other physical functions. So-called “whiskey dick” occurs because blood flow and transmission of neural signals to the penis are impaired by alcohol. Impaired blood flow means an impaired erection. “Whiskey dick” is actually a misnomer — impaired erections can occur after drinking any type of alcohol.

This phenomenon is not permanent — you will regain normal penile function once the alcohol in your system has metabolized. However, there is no magic remedy to make your penis erect once you’ve had too much to drink. You just have to wait it out. The good news for you is that most men don’t experience erectile problems after just a little bit of alcohol — it must be enough to impact your physical functioning. The best solution is probably to either not drink or only have one or two drinks.  A little bit of alcohol can set the mood and help you loosen up, but too much can seriously impair your sexual functioning. If you really want to both drink and have sex, you should drink moderately and pace yourself throughout the night (which is good general advice for drinking safely). You should not take any erection-enhancing drugs like Viagra or herbal supplements after drinking, since you don’t know what the synergistic effects of the drug will be with alcohol — they could end up interacting in a harmful way.

Women also experience sexual side effects from drinking, namely vaginal dryness that makes sex difficult or uncomfortable. Both male and female orgasm time may increase and intensity may decrease after drinking. If your girlfriend has been drinking, she might find sexual activity unpleasurable. Again, the key is to stay below a BAC of .055.

More important than any discomfort either of you may face is the issue of consent. Neither of you can legally consent to sex if you are incapacitated (i.e. slurred speech, impaired physical coordination, vomiting, passing out) due to drinking. You and your girlfriend should always communicate during sexual activity to make sure you’re both into it. Silence or the absence of a “no” is not the same thing as the presence of a “yes.”  So make sure whatever you do is mutually pleasurable and desired. For specific questions about consent, you can contact the SHARE office at University Health Services.

Always make sure to use protection during sexual activity. If you choose to drink, please also be aware that the decreased motor function caused by alcohol impairs safer sex.  Only condoms, female condoms and dental dams reduce the risk of both pregnancy and the transmission of STIs.  However, these methods are difficult to use correctly after you’ve been drinking.

Finally, you should be aware that temporary erectile dysfunction problems like what we call “whiskey dick” can also occur because of psychological anxiety. If you’re worried about performing, you’re less likely to be able to perform. So next time you’re with your girlfriend, just relax and don’t worry about it!

The Sexpert

Interested in Sexual Health? The Sexpert is always looking for passionate members of the community to join the team of sexual health educators who, along with fact-checking from University health professionals, help write these columns. Email sexpert@dailyprincetonian.com for more information and, of course, with your questions about sexual health. Don’t be shy!

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