So you’re at a party (or a bar, or a booze-fueled picnic in the park…you get the idea) talking with someone you like A LOT. It’s pretty obvious you want to hook up. There are details to sort out, like whose place and how are we getting there? Other important questions may or may not come up: How are we preventing pregnancy? How are we protecting against STIs? Unfortunately those important questions may be less likely to come up the more you both drink.
A disclaimer: I can’t reassure you that sex while partying can be 100% safe—in some cases the best decision is not to hook up at all. For one thing, when you're under the influence it can be tricky to be sure both you and your partner are thinking clearly enough to communicate your desires and boundaries with each other. But I also want to be real here: sometimes people party, and sometimes partying leads to sex. For folks who occasionally find themselves hooking up under the influence, there are some ways to keep yourself safer.
Does drinking affect birth control?
Alcohol can alter your judgment. You may be willing to do things (or people!) you would not normally do when sober. This may include having sex when you haven’t negotiated birth control in advance.
There’s mixed scientific evidence about how alcohol impacts birth control use. Some studies show that when alcohol is involved, birth control is discussed less often and condoms are used less, even in established relationships. Other studies show that drinking is associated with more condom use for casual partners and that consistent condom users remain consistent even when under the influence. These conflicting findings may have to do with the fact that alcohol affects people differently.
Whether drinking changes your intentions or not, it can definitely mess with your motor skills. If you use condoms, spermicide, or a diaphragm—any method that requires set up right before sex—there is always a chance of human error. When you’re drunk, the chance of using these methods improperly goes up.
Not every method of contraception is affected by partying. Many methods—IUDs, implants, sterilization, the shot, the ring, and the patch—are perfect for partying as they are in place well in advance of the fun and you bring them with you everywhere. The down side to all these methods is they don’t protect you from STIs. Luckily, condoms are portable even in the tiniest purse or pocket and may be available at bars and parties.
Here are 8 practical ways to play safer when partying:
- Make a plan when you are sober and stick to it, both for drinking and for sex. If your plan says absolutely no hooking up after drinking, you can still flirt and trade phone numbers with a new potential partner. If your plan clearly says you are done after three alcoholic drinks, alternate your boozy beverages with non-alcoholic drinks, like water or soda, to help the fun last longer. And, of course, make sure you have a plan for getting home that doesn't involve anyone driving under the influence.
- Something that may help with #1: whether as moral support or designated drivers, enlist the help of your friends to help you stick to your plan. Here are some tips about how to do this.
- Condoms are always the way to go for STI protection, but consider a second party-ready method to help ensure that you won’t have pregnancy scares on top of potential STI concerns.
- Speaking of condoms, don’t rely on a partner to supply them. Even if you’re not sure you’ll need one, even if you already use another form of birth control, carrying condoms—and always using them for STI protection—is a smart thing to do.
- Don’t leave drinks unattended. Even though it’s flattering when someone offers to buy or bring you a drink, you are safer being in control of your drink at all times.
- Female condoms can be inserted up to 8 hours before sex, so if you suspect you may be partying too hard to use a male condom, consider trying this.
- If you find yourself having sex in a situation where condoms aren’t available, withdrawal is always better than nothing (especially if your partner has had practice).
- Have some emergency contraceptive pills at home in case a condom broke or wasn’t used.
If you’ve had drunk sex, it might be worth reviewing: How much fun was it for you? Did you find you had a harder time getting off when drunk? Did you notice that you had less of your natural lubrication? How about your partner’s sexual function? How does it compare to hooking up sober?
Wish you partied less?
Be safe and have fun!