The almighty glass of wine

02/07/2012 at 12:28 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments
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How many readers here have heard a variation of the following statements, with regards to their sex lives?

“Have a glass of wine and relax.”
“Sex life is lacking? May I suggest some red wine to go with dinner.”
“A pill for sexual dysfunction is dangerous and ineffective! After all, it’s not like a glass of wine.”

*Raises hand* Heard it? I’ll keep on hearing it till the day I die! There’s a reason I included the ol’ wine glass advice on our FSD Discussion Bingo card, version 1.0. I’ve heard it from doctors, I’ve read about it in advice columns, and I’ve heard it from my own family members.

Follow up question… …Does this advice ever work???

I’m so sick and tired of hearing this! And I know for certain that I’m not the only one frustrated with getting the same generic, useless advice. From a commenter on Jezebel:

I suffer, on and off, from severe pain during intercourse (diagnosed as Vulvodynia), and the worse part for me, is the lack of researched treatments and even the lack of knowledge among doctors about the condition (three doctors told me to “try to relax more” when I had sex. Another told me to “try drinking a glass of wine.”

Even feminist sexologist Dr. Leonore Tiefer, organizer of the New View Campaign, suggests alcohol can improve women’s sex lives:

“I mean there are a lot of inexpensive products like a glass of wine or a massage.” June 11 2010, related to the Flibanserin controversy.

(After what I’ve been through, I figure if you actually have a sex problem troublesome enough to merit drug use then chances are you’ve already tried a lot of other, inexpensive solutions without satisfactory results.)

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard Dr. Tiefer mention alcohol in the context of sexual medicine; In 2004 when testifying to the FDA about the potential risks of a testosterone patch for women as a treatment for low libido, Dr. Leonore Tiefer stated:

Intrinsia is not a glass of Chardonnay, and yet we have already seen that it may well be promoted with a giggle and a wink as “the female Viagra.” Not so – this is a steroid hormone women must continuously take for weeks before getting an effect.

Dr. Tiefer is absolutely right that the Intrinsia patch requires continued use before seeing any effects, so you can’t just slap it on one night and expect to get horny. And it’s absolutely true that the FDA did not approve it for use in the USA due to concerns about health risks. But what I’m really interested in is Dr. Tiefer’s dropping wine in the context of women’s sexual health. What do you suppose she meant by that comparison, anyway?

Now you may be thinking, “K, the chardonnay was just an example. Dr. Tiefer could have used anything in her comparison of sexual medicine.” But wait — I keep finding examples of alcohol specifically in discussions of sexual health. That’s two comparisons of drugs for sexual dysfunction vs. booze by Dr. Tiefer. I’m noticing a pattern…

Between Dr. Tiefer’s comments and repeated comments about booze and sex found elsewhere –

There may be cheaper and faster ways to reduce inhibition—like a glass of wine and a more attentive partner.The Daily Beast

Agree with your partner that you will devote every Wednesday night or whenever to talking, sharing a glass of wine, a video, relaxing together… At least once a week try to think of some little extra to add a touch of glamour or luxury to your love life – a bottle of sparkling wine, a scented oil, a flower.Dear Deidre

Plan a date that you can both really enjoy, with a movie or dinner beforehand, or perhaps a walk or a glass of wine by candlelight. walk, have a glass of wine by candlelight, whatever the couple likes to do as a couple.Sex Therapy Online

– Why, it’s almost as if booze is being held out as a magical panacea to all sexual problems! Even if it’s not an appropriate course of action for everyone’s sex problems!

(Note also that much of this sex life advice is directed at couples – does wine still work on single people? I wonder what folks with religious restrictions or recovering alcoholics with sexual problems think of this advice. Is this advice regularly given to young folks with sexual problems but still below the drinking age?)

Yet somehow the wine recommendation is supposed to be more complicated and nuanced than considering medication to address some sexual problems. I don’t get it; the medical model simplifies women’s sexuality, but the social construction model recognizes the complexity. By the way, have you heard that wine is good for your sex life…?

It sounds like a large part of the push for alcohol instead of medication has something to do with the idea that drinking is cheaper than prescription medicine, but then I keep thinking of that old adage, “Life is too short to drink cheap wine.” I’d really have to run the numbers some time – if a decent bottle of wine costs $20+, maybe $40? split between 2 people and a one-time use of Viagra costs about $10 split between … 1 or more people… Or we have some top-shelf vodka at what, $35? $40? which will last for more than 1 evening vs. about a month’s worth of a prescription gel… But then wine aficionados will point to decent wine under $10 per bottle… or will Box Wine bought in bulk suffice?

Anyway, let me confirm your suspicions so far and this admission is probably going to make me very unpopular:

I hate booze.

I hate all booze everywhere.

I hate wine.
I hate beer.
I hate liquor.
I don’t even like Champagne.
I hate alcohol!

Hate all the booze!

[Description: Bug-eyed stick-figure type white lady in a pink dress. 1 arm raised triumphantly, the other arm holding a broom. Mouth wide open, big teeth. Caption: HATE ALL THE BOOZE! Original picture by Allie Brosh @ Hyperbole and a half.]

I’m one of those people who throws out good booze instead of drinking it, because I get tired of looking at the bottle take up space that could be used up by tasty snacks instead.

hate all the booze?

[Description: Bug-eyed stick-figure type white lady in a pink dress. Not quite so triumphant anymore. Mouth frowny face, tears in eyes. Caption: Hate all the booze? Original picture by Allie Brosh @ Hyperbole and a half.]

Now before we go any further, let me assure you: I don’t hate your booze. I have no interest in taking your booze away from you and I accept that drinking is a socially acceptable way of – being socially acceptable. If anything, I’m the weird one. Almost everyone drinks and does so responsibly. I just ask that you extend courtesy to me and please stop pressuring me to drink. No thanks, I’m fine; I’ll be your designated driver or whatever.

Now let me tell you why booze + I don’t get along:

It all tastes the same to me and the taste is Bad; I’m almost 30 and I’ve heard enough iterations of “You just haven’t found the one you like” to know that I’m never going to find the one I like.

If I drink enough to get tipsy or drunk, then I act out of character – I get giggly. This is not conductive to relaxation, as I must then consciously self-monitor myself to prevent saying something foolish. I can’t keep up with conversations or movies. I lose my wits. The room spins.

Alcohol can cause dehydration, which can then lead to feelings of vaginal dryness. The sugar content can tip some sensitive folks over into yeast infection territory, or at least make it harder to recover from yeast infections. Since my yeast infections last up to six months and tend to be complicated with simultaneous bacterial vaginosis, this is a concern that’s always on the back of my mind when I drink, even more then when I eat junk food.

I hate the smell. I associate booze-breath stench with alcoholic family members and the feelings of powerlessness I endured when I had to put up with them.

Alcohol makes my pelvis feel funny, like my vulva is swollen with blood, yet it decreases my feelings of physical sensitivity, making it harder to orgasm.

Annoyingly, there seems to be a direct correlation between amount I drink and my desire to go to sleep. Unfortunately I wake up multiple times per night on a good night, due to bladder problems. Having to get up & go pee makes it hard to fall asleep in the first place.

The absolute worst part is that alcohol tears the fuck out of my bladder and makes me piss approximately every 5 minutes – not conductive to a satisfying sexual encounter. This is the part I hate the most. Ohh, getting up to go pee every 5 minutes – that’s so sexy. Having to pause, stumble over to the bathroom and pee only to do it allover again a few minutes later. (This goes on for hours when I drink…) Hot.

So far alcohol & sex don’t combine well for my partner either. A single shot is enough to impair his ability to maintain an erection. He can still get one – but not for long. 2+ drinks and it’s just not happening – he’ll be too distracted & uncoordinated to give me the attention I need, and he becomes incapable of maintaining an erection & having an orgasm. Since we can’t enjoy each other sexually after drinking, I feel like if he drinks instead of fooling around with me, he chosen booze over me.
Worryingly, I think my boyfriend is more sensitive to alcohol than he acknowledges. Sometimes, booze will just knock him out even after 2 drinks. One time we split a small bottle of wine over steak and immediately afterward, he blacked out for awhile. He was conscious – or so it appeared – but he had no memory of playing a video game (and he accused me of taking his turn!)
That’s scary! I thought blackouts required more alcohol than that! So was he pulling my leg or is he really that sensitive…? I think we better not fool around after drinking. Nope, not gonna do it.

Yet I’m noticing a theme in the social construction arguments against sexual dysfunction: Women don’t need sexual medicine, because they already have booze. Wine can solve all your sexual problems. You’re just too uptight and need to loosen up, girl!

I don’t want to have to drink when I want to feel sexy. If I want to get drunk, then I’ll drink. If I want to have sex, then I’ll go work on that. The two things have, in my experience, combined very poorly.

So why sex therapists and sexologists suggest alcohol, which has known side effects on sexual health to patients with sex problems, I’ll never know. Perhaps the unofficial prescriptions had something to do with the common sense advice that red wine is good for you, except one reason why may need re-evaluation now, since a researcher’s data is in question. The effects of alcohol and sex are paradoxical: in some ways it might be good for you, but at the same time it can impair sexual health and enjoyment short term. This measurable negative effect has been researched mostly in alcoholics; yet almost half report positive effects.
However, in sexologists’ favor, there may be a link between drinking and higher levels of sexual satisfaction! So maybe there’s something to this advice after all in certain contexts – IF you live in Italy, where there are no doubt cultural differences to take into account, and IF you drink wine every day.

So when someone says about sexual medicine, “It’s not like a glass of wine,” I say…


I’m glad that sexual medicine isn’t like a glass of wine! Booze gives me more trouble than it’s worth. I say, “Not booze” is a benefit of our hypothetical sexual medication!

So please, reconsider that advice that I add a bottle of wine to my bedroom, and stop telling me it’s what I really need to solve all my sex problems.


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  1. I have heard this – I also hate it, because I also don’t drink at all. (That dates back to before my vulval pain problems (on which you’re probably due another update, by the way), to having Chronic Fatigue which makes me much more sensitive to all drugs, regardless of their legal or prescription status.) I think it’s a close cousin to those other annoying advices: “you just need to relax” and “you just need to let go of your inhibitions”.

    • You know what I think? I have decided that “lack of inhibitions” is not equal to “desire.”
      Drinking is supposed to lower your inhibitions, right? Makes you feel less… Restrictions from the inside. But desire is like… Something you actively want & crave.
      And yeah I can see how there’s times when, the desire is there but so are the inhibitions, so you drink, and those inhibitions go away. But then what about the people who do not feel & have not felt sexual desire?

      Is drinking going to create sexual desire where none existed before???

      Plus my above statements have not even addressed all the other dysfunctions! A lack of inhibitions isn’t going to fix chronic vaginal pain in the long term!

      • In at least one case, the man who said it to me clearly meant ‘your inhibitions are stopping you having sex with me’, which – while not the whole story – was also true, because I didn’t entirely trust him. He turned out to have lied about his name, age, and history. The moral I draw from this is: sometimes inhibitions are useful.

        And yes, I agree about desire being active. I think for good sex you probably need physical comfort + feeling of comfort + active desire (or to put them at their respective minimums, absence of pain + lack of inhibitions + consent) – alcohol is only going to produce one of those, maximum. It might in a few cases help reduce pain (if it’s caused by muscle tension, I hypothesise, or simply because it can have an anaesthetic effect), but it isn’t always going to help, and it might impair in other ways as you say in your post.

  2. I even love all the booze (okay, most of the booze) and still cringe at alcohol as a categorical suggestion for treating, managing, or alleviating sexual dysfunction.

    Even though I often enjoy it, alcohol definitely messes with my reaction time and perception of people and movement in space. And for me, the amount of booze that would successfully counteract the majority of my pelvic pain issues would almost certainly impair my judgment.

    At some point — a point I can very much envision as real — it becomes a consent issue, which is what scares me. When I hear, “Have a glass of wine and relax…” I sometimes wonder if what they’re really saying is, “Have a glass of wine and don’t worry about saying no.”

    • I think people who drop a glass of alcohol as a suggestion for addressing sexual dysfunction probably don’t even realize that it’s such an unoriginal idea. Like they’re suggesting first line of defense stuff for what has become a crisis. Like trying to plug up a leaky dam with your finger – or maybe chewing gum. Like, you as an individual sex therapist only mentioned it once or twice in a news byte in an article in a magazine… But the people with sexual problems have already read a bunch of those articles, each containing similar news bytes by other sex therapists. If they haven’t started reading yet, chances are they will eventually, or they’ll stumble across the articles on websites.
      So cumulatively the standard go-to advice piles up! It reminds me of seeing Viagra or whatever advertisements inundate media, except the alcohol suggestion is more subtle… And it doesn’t have the same stigma as using prescription medicine. Like I said – drinking is totally socially acceptable.

      I don’t see a lot about consent & sexual dysfunction in the writing I’ve been looking at though. Like i said, I think it’s because people like Dr. Tiefer et al are writing with couples in long-term relationships in mind. I feel pretty comfortable saying there’s less advice in general for singles with sexual dysfunction. That’s kind of a specialized thing that I’ve seen in some pelvic pain books, but not so much in magazines & websites. Alcohol consumption & consent can still become an issue in long-term relationships but I think for the most part, the advice is doled out with the assumption that trust & experience is already in place.

      The consent issue is one of the reasons I don’t want to fool around with my own partner when he’s been drinking. We didn’t drink in high school or college, so we’re still learning what our limits are, now, late, as adults. If he’s getting blasted off wine to the point where he’s flailing around & whining and/or not remembering everything the next day, then I’d rather wait until he’s sober again before we do anything.

  3. The absolute worst part is that alcohol tears the fuck out of my bladder and makes me piss approximately every 5 minutes – not conductive to a satisfying sexual encounter. This is the part I hate the most. Ohh, getting up to go pee every 5 minutes – that’s so sexy. Having to pause, stumble over to the bathroom and pee only to do it allover again a few minutes later.

    THIS. Is me exactly. I’m not in a sexual relationship now, but when I was, before I went on amitriptyline, I was even getting up to piss repeatedly during sex without having had any alcohol.

    Also, I have seizures (partial/temporal lobe-type). Not life-threatening ones, but they can mess around with my cognition and leave me pretty much incapable of doing anything for the rest of the day, in the post-ictal period. Guess what else alcohol is well-known to do? Lower the seizure threshold. Yeah, seizures are pretty sexy right there. So the “glass of wine” advice is not just frivolous but could be actively dangerous to women whose seizures are life-threatening. And there are a lot of other things I can’t think of off the top of my head right now, that are incompatible with alcohol– various physical conditions, various medications that may be absolutely necessary to keep someone alive, or not in constant severe pain, etc.

    I actually do like wine coolers. But the taste of most alcohol doesn’t do anything for me either. Actually I associate the taste of hard liquor with some really, really horrible times in my life (I… experimented to see if it would help me; it didn’t), to the point where the taste/smell of it can be triggering to me. (Yeah, again, no allowances made for people for whom drinking/alcohol/etc may be triggering; it’s assumed to be relaxing for EVERYONE.)

    And the more I hear from Leonore Tiefer, the more I’m convinced she’s viewing the world so incredibly narrowly through her precious ideology that she does not understand the nuances of disability at all. The worst part is that I don’t disagree with every single thing she’s ever said. It’s just that there are these… huge areas of human experience that seem to be absolutely incomprehensible to her because she MUST jam everything into this ideology she’s based her entire career around.

    • I have to get up & go during sexual activity too, even if I’m totally sober – but it’s just so much worse if I’m drinking. When I start to get relaxed from booze, I can’t stay like that because I’m going to have to get up within a few minutes.

      I hadn’t even considered the possibility of alcohol & interference with medication & other medical conditions! I suppose the potential for side effects & interference is possible with just about any kind of treatment – OTC or prescription. Like I know that some medications interfere with each other & that will apply to any sexual medicine too. Someone, somewhere, is going to be allergic or just sensitive to something. But it’s like… alcohol is looked at as so… benign. So flippant, so readily available. But it’s not right for everyone, yet it’s taken for granted.

      In fairness, it’s not just Dr. Tiefer proposing wine & adult beverages in the context of improving your sex life (as a couple…) lots of other sex therapists & advice columnists do it too, as I pointed out. Like here’s one more instance of wine suggested by Dr. Marty Klein – interestingly, his post explicitly states not to have more than 1/2 of a glass, due to the risk of alcohol interfering with sex. Hm well now that’s interesting…

      So even though “Everyone’s doing it,” I focus on Dr. Tiefer when it’s relevant to do so, precisely because she’s pushed so hard for the social construction model of sex and feminism, and because she’s recognized as a leader in feminist sex theory – and so I don’t see so much criticism of her work elsewhere. And yeah, sometimes she’s right about stuff – credit where credit is due; you may have noticed that there’s a war on women going on in the USA aaand it is sufficient for me to say right now that that war is not making me feel any more comfortable with proceeding with further attempts at PIV sex. There’s your social construction argument re: FSD, in a nutshell. But even Dr. Tiefer’s work and social construction broadly can have problems – since the pain and chronic muscle tension I experience would last even if this war were resolved in such a manner as to please me. Social construction can’t explain away everything going on in the body. It’s hard to criticize social construction but it’s still not perfect.

  4. Sounds like a big old excuse to IGNORE and deny our sexuality all together. Or at best, simplify it to the point where all difficulties can be solved by a trip to the liquor store.

  5. This is a HUGE gripe I have about my history of asking medical professionals for help. One NP actually told me – in front of my mother – to “just get drunk and let your BF pound you.” I was 20 – so drinking wasn’t even legal for me when she was suggesting it. Also, thinking about it years later, she was basically telling me to get date raped by my partner. In this case, the alcohol suggestion was definitely her telling me to “loosen up” because I was “too uptight.” Well, no, it turned out I had a micro perforate hymen that had to be surgically operated on, thanks.

  6. I get advised to have a glass of wine often by doctors, and not just for sexual issues. My husband was shocked when I told him; he has never been given such advice by a medical professional.
    I never can figure out why they do this, and I always feel more inclined to just get the hell out of there as quickly as I can, than to ask for an explanation. Not that I think they would be able to explain it honestly. It’s just another of those weird social expectations I’m always failing to conform to, I guess. Whatever.

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