The Scientific Truth Behind "Whiskey Dick"

man experiencing whiskey dick in bed with woman

MACDUFF: What three things does drink especially provoke? 
PORTER: Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes. It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.

Turns out Shakespeare knew a thing or two about the phenomenon known as “whiskey dick,” or alcohol-related erectile dysfunction. But since Macbeth doesn't offer an explanation for why a dude goes soft when it matters most, we had sixth-year urology resident Dr. Ashley Winter give us the scoop!

What’s going on here? Why do men have erectile problems after drinking?

Winter: Well, the first idea is that the alcohol is directly affecting the penis. Alcohol causes your blood vessels to dilate, which is why people’s faces get flushed. It affects the way the blood moves in and out of the penis, which is, obviously, important for erectile function. There’s not actual scientific information but some people say that because your veins are so dilated, yes, the blood may be going in, but the blood actually might be leaving too fast, and you’re not going to stay hard.

The second component is that drinking causes discoordination. Your nervous system is not coordinating overall and your brain is not sending signals well to your extremities -- you’re sloppy.

sad, naked man with whiskey dick sulking on bed

Is it inhibiting the psychological desire, or just the physical process?

Winter: There’s a component of coming down from alcohol -- there’s fatigue, and you may be in a bad mood because alcohol is a depressant.

There are a lot of studies on this subject with conflicting findings. The most recent study, they gave a whole bunch of young men alcohol and then asked them to try to get hard. You’re less in control of your performance when you’re drunk. If you’re sober, you can say, “I want to be in the mood!” but you have less control over it after a few drinks.

What happens in the long term? How will continued heavy drinking affect my sexual life?

Winter: There’s some indication that if you drink very modestly it might help your sexual life. If you have one glass of wine a day, it might help with erectile function in the long run. But for people who are binge drinkers, or alcoholics, it’s bad for your overall health -- liver problems, hormone imbalance, which could lead to high estrogen and low testosterone levels.

Does this only affect men, or does something comparable happen to women as well?

Winter: The basic fact remains that women experience arousal and orgasm through a lot of similar ways as men. Less control over whether you become lubricated is one factor, but a woman’s clitoris becomes filled with blood in the same way as a penis. It’s just a lot harder to measure a clitoris.

man asleep with whiskey in bed

Does it only happen with whiskey?

Winter: There’s nothing to suggest that one type of alcohol or another is different. The bottom line is the blood alcohol level, which depends on how much you drink, what you’ve eaten, and your weight. That is what’s meaningful.

Is there an alcohol that won’t mess with your libido?

Winter: Again, it’s not the type of alcohol, but the quantity. If you know you’re someone who drinks a lot of shots in a row, then avoid that. Know yourself, know how quickly you drink, and pick an alcohol to drink to avoid that.

Is there a way to resolve it once it’s happened?

Winter: Get sober! If you’re in the bedroom and can’t cum, you have to just get sober.

How can you prevent it?

Winter: Just don’t drink! It’s not the way to the most exciting sex of your life.