As the temperatures begin to go down and the festive season gets ever-nearer, who doesn’t love a Saturday night out, drinking mulled wine whilst heating their fingers on the open fire at a local bar. Or snuggled up on the sofa with a bottle of vino and that evening’s trashy TV.
As the longer nights draw in, there’s all the more reason to make the most of the hours of darkness. And when the drinks start flowing, and the conversation is rolling, it’s difficult to know how long you’ve been sat there, as you buy your fifth drink of the evening.
According to Forbes’ science correspondent David Di Salvo, alcohol makes you happy, less inhibited and much more sexually aroused.
By jacking up dopamine levels in your brain, alcohol tricks you into thinking everything is great and making you feel happier and more lustful. The compound effect is that you keep drinking to feed your dopamine release, but at the same time you’re altering other brain chemicals that can enhance feelings of depression. Alcohol has an effect on the cerebral cortex in the brain, where thought processing and consciousness take place. It depresses the behavioural inhibitory centres, making you less inhibited; it slows down the processing of information from the eyes, ears, mouth and other senses; and it inhibits the thought processes, making it difficult to think clearly.
Alcohol also depresses the nerve centres that control sexual arousal and performance. Perhaps tragically, although sexual urges may increase, sexual performance can decrease – with regular complaints being inability to achieve or maintain an erection and not being able to orgasm. So a drunken fumble might not be the best of your life and you might not even remember it in the morning
In a nutshell if you’ve been drinking all evening, simple biology shows you’ll feel happier and more sociable, much more in the mood to have sex, but less inhibited and therefore more likely to pull someone you wouldn’t normally go for – and more likely to take risks with protection.
So here are top tips for confident and safe sex this autumn
Know what you're drinking
For the majority of people, having a drink helps us feel more confident, less anxious and more willing to try new things. When we drink it weakens the part of our brain which controls inhibition. With a chemical boost to our self confidence, it’s easy to forget ourselves – who we are, where we are and what we’re doing – risking putting ourselves into potentially dangerous situations.
We all deserve to take time away from our busy lives, take time to enjoy ourselves and relax; but be kind to yourself. Balance alcohol in-take with water and if you start to feel out of control seek help from a friend or bar manager and head home.
Nearly half a million STIs (excluding HIV) are diagnosed in England every year (PHE, 2014) – that’s a lot of condoms not being worn….. Condoms are the only way to prevent contraction of sexually transmitted infections so if you plan on having casual sex this autumn, it really makes sense to always use a condom. Avoid the awkward moment prior to intercourse by making it clear before you begin that you expect protection to be worn and always carry a condom (or two!) in your bag or wallet whether you're male or female– don’t expect your sexual partner to have one. A reluctance in a partner to use condoms says a lot about the person your thinking of sleeping with – you just don’t need to take the risk.
Vanilla with a hint of spice?
With an increased lack of inhibition and blooming self confidence, visions of missionary in a bed go out of the window after a few hot toddies. Instead romantic sex by a roaring fire seems much more attractive - but generally due to circumstances and a lack of planning, sex can end up being somewhere much more dodgy even though it seems like the best idea at the time. Be careful as this type of sex can be unpleasant, painful, embarrassing and unenjoyable for both sexual partners.
There’s plenty of ways to have adventurous sex without putting yourself at risk. Be confident and think about the location of your sexual encounter before the throes of passion really take hold. It's likely to be more fun than some dingy alley
Sex can irritate your bladder and can result in a urine infection. To help prevent this, have a wee as soon as you can after intercourse as it will get rid of bacteria which may stay within your uretha.
A moment on the lips…
Sexually transmitted infections can be transferred not only by vaginal intercourse; oral and anal sex also pose risks. So for sex with someone who's sexual history you don't know the same protection rules apply – use condoms.
Know your status
In the UK 26,000 people have HIV yet are unaware they do. The majority of new HIV transmissions unknowingly come from these individuals. The only way to have confident sex, therefore, is to know you are clear of any sexually transmitted infections; many of which are symptom-free for a number of months, even years.
In the UK, everyone is entitled to free STI screening at their GP, hospital or local sexual health centres (GUM clinics). For those who prefer to check their status in the privacy of their own home; thanks to advances in technology, self-testing kits are now widely available for a range of STIs including chlamydia and HIV.
Get checked out
If you’ve taken a risk with your sexual health and didn’t use a condom, don’t panic. The important thing is to get checked for sexually transmitted infections as soon as you can. Then, if you have something, you can start treatment straight away. Left untreated, STIs can cause serious complications later in life, such as infertility and impotence, some may even be fatal. So get tested so you can get treated basically.
Have fun this autumn and with the party season fast approaching stay safe and make informed confident choices that are right for you.