Alcoholism and Female sexual dysfunction and infertility

How Alcoholism may Lead to Female Sexual Dysfunction – and Poor Fertility

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs puts reproduction as a basic, physiological need. And of course, humans can’t procreate without the pleasurable act of sex. 

Sadly, it’s not as ‘good’ for most ladies. According to the Hormone Health Network, as much as 33% of American women report a low sex drive. Add to that, a lot of ladies experience other types of female sexual dysfunction, which includes pain during sex, as well as the trouble of becoming aroused and having an orgasm.

Causes of Female Sexual Dysfunction

Female sexual dysfunction may be caused by any of the following: 

  • Medications such as oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, anti-hypertensives, or pain relievers
  • Conditions such as endometriosis, pelvic pain, or bladder inflammation (cystitis)
  • Having undergone certain pelvic/genital surgeries
  • Menopause or premature ovarian failure 
  • Depression, anxiety, stress, past sexual abuse, eating disorders, or fear of unwanted pregnancy
  • Relationship issues
  • Beliefs about sex
  • Health problems such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, or alcohol abuse – the latter being the focus of this article
Effects of Alcoholism on Female Sexual Functions

Effects of Moderate Alcohol Consumption and Sexual Functions

Alcohol, in Moderate Amounts, May Improve Female Sexual Function 

A lot of females drink to have fun, while some do so to get a better experience. This is based on the belief that alcohol, in certain amounts, may positively affect female sexual function. 

According to a study by Davis et al, women who drank alcohol found themselves better aroused. Results showed that a higher blood alcohol concentration comes with a higher level of arousal. Some believe that heightened sexual arousal can lead to a better sexual experience. 

On the other hand, an Italian study has claimed that a moderate intake of red wine can help sexual function. A total of 798 women were recruited and divided into three groups. The first set, which comprised of ladies who drank one to two glasses of red wine daily, fared better in the Female Sexual Function Index. This meant that they reported better arousal, lubrication, and sexual function compared to teetotalers. 

Effects of Excessive Alcohol Consumption and Sexual Functions

…But Alcohol Consumption, in Excessive Amounts, Can Lead to Female Sexual Dysfunction 

Although alcohol holds some promise in terms of sexual intercourse, more studies show that alcohol abuse can bring about female sexual dysfunction. This was seen in the study of Dissiz et al. The researchers asked alcoholics and healthy individuals to answer the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) questionnaire, which helps assess the key dimensions of female sexual dysfunction. 

The participants were asked about the frequency and level of sexual desire and arousal, lubrication, as well as their ability to reach climax. As expected, the FSFI scores were lower in alcohol users, compared to non-drinkers. 

In India, sexual dysfunction was also noted in women who were diagnosed with alcohol dependence syndrome. A study published in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry has shown that out of the 40 females suffering from the said disorder,

  • 55% reported low sexual desire 
  • 52.5% demonstrated anorgasmia, or the inability to reach an orgasm despite sexual stimulation
  • 45% stated dissatisfaction with own sexual function

The same results were also seen in the meta-analytic study by Grover et al. Their research has shown a high rate of sexual dysfunction amongst alcoholics, from 40% to as much as 92.5%. The women who were included in this survey complained of vaginal dryness or painful intercourse (dyspareunia). 

Dryness occurs when the vaginal canal is sparsely lubricated with clear fluid. While the hormone estrogen is the main booster of vaginal moisture, it can be affected by alcohol intake. Remember, alcohol can cause dehydration. Such can affect the skin, the mucous membranes, and of course, the vagina. Since this might bring about painful sexual intercourse, vaginal dryness often leads to a loss of sexual desire. 

Another reason why alcoholism can affect sexual dysfunction can be seen in the paper of Beckman and Ackerman. According to the authors, alcohol abuse can lower physiological arousal. This is earmarked by an increase in respiration and blood pressure, as well as a slower activity of the gastrointestinal system. As such, physiological arousal plays a big role in a woman being ‘excited’ for sex.

Alcoholism May Affect your Fertility As Well

Apart from wreaking havoc on your sex life, excessive alcohol consumption can dampen your fertility. It may increase your risk of suffering from ovulatory disorders, which is the leading cause of infertility. Such a condition can range from menstrual irregularities to a complete absence of menses. 

According to a meta-study by Heertum and Rossi, taking 1-5 drinks per week heightens female infertility – meaning it can lower her chances of getting pregnant. Expectedly, high consumers – those who take more than 140 grams of alcohol per week – were more likely to seek fertility treatment. 

Also supporting this claim is a study by Marco et al. Though the experiment was made on rats, the results show that as low as 4 grams of alcohol per kilogram can decrease the number of ovulations. This, of course, lowers the chances of pregnancy. 

Additionally, a dose of alcohol increased the risk of having malformed or dead rat fetuses. During pregnancy, alcohol was also shown to affect fetal weight, size, and leg length. 

As for humans, alcohol intake can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. As such, women who wish to get pregnant – or are already expecting – are discouraged from taking any amount of alcohol, whatever trimester she might be in. 

How to ‘Fix’ the Dysfunction

Certain medications and conditions aside – if alcohol proves to be the reason behind your female sexual dysfunction, then the best thing you could do is to stay away from it. You can start by attending a 12-step group, or better yet, Women for Sobriety. This is specially made for women struggling with alcohol abuse.

As for other options, you can sign up for outpatient treatment as warranted. If you have a severe alcohol addiction, then you might have to attend inpatient rehab or be hospitalized as needed.

Wrapping It Up

Alcoholism goes beyond the brain and the liver – it can affect your sexual function as well. Excessive alcohol use may result in a low sexual desire, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, and an inability to reach orgasm. These, of course, are barriers to a great sexual experience. As such, if you want to ‘feel good’ again, then it’s time that you said no to your favorite alcoholic drinks. 

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)

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