“Whiskey dick.” The phrase conjures up images of alcohol-soaked nights, fumbling in a too-small bed and whispering “I swear this has never happened before” over and over. It’s awkward, and a little bit embarrassing, but it’s happened to just about every guy once. And while it’s commonly known as the aforementioned “whiskey dick,” it’s really erectile dysfunction brought on by alcohol.
Dr. Paul Turek, a fellowship trained, board-certified physician, explains: “Alcohol is uninhibiting and relaxing, which increases the desire for sex and the motivation to pursue it, but acts as an anesthetic when time comes to perform.” It’s a Catch-22. Drinking makes you want to hook up, but also makes it impossible. While you’ve probably heard the term or had some experience with it, here are some facts about whiskey dick you should definitely keep in mind if the situation arises again.
“Whiskey Dick” Is Just What Happens When Alcohol Is Doing It’s Thing
Alcohol is a depressant and affects memory, coordination, and the nervous system as a whole. It’s also a sedative, explains Turek, which is why we reach for it in social situations and why it makes first dates feel a little less stressful. But it’s also the reason complex tasks become more difficult and motor skills suffer. Just as you might feel a little off-balance after a few drinks, penises aren’t immune to the effects of alcohol.
It’s (Probably) Not a Big Deal
If you and your male partner ran up a big bar tab and now he can’t, uh… perform… it’s likely not anything to worry about in the long-term.
Turek jokes that whiskey dick isn’t necessarily indicative of anything other than a hangover the next day. “The tipping point for alcohol’s various effects on the body occur at about the same dose intake, and for many that falls in the range of hangover induction.” So if he’s drinking enough to get whiskey dick, he definitely drank enough to feel it the next day. But Turek does mention that if it’s happening a lot, it’s more of a sign of alcohol abuse than anything else.
There’s No Way to Predict How Many Drinks Will or Won’t Give Him Whiskey Dick
There are plenty of factors that affect an individual's reaction to alcohol. Turek mentions age, metabolism, ethnicity and genetics among them.
Turek mentions that there are no formal studies done on the effects of alcohol and erections. “It’s not at all clear that when it comes to the effect of alcohol on erections, the older, or the weaker,” he says. Just like some guys can really feel a beer or two, some men are just more likely to have their penis stop working after a few drinks.
Once He’s Got it, That’s it for the Night
If he’s tipsy and having trouble getting it up, he’s just going to need to sleep it off. There’s no cure-all. “If you think of alcohol as a medication, then it makes sense that to get rid of the side effects, the ‘medication’ has to run its metabolic course through the body,” says Turek. “That timeline is different for everyone but needs to happen to see relief.”
While it’s Called “Whiskey Dick,” Any Alcoholic Drink Can Cause Problems
He could drink a few beers or some gross premixed margarita in a box, or a few Fireball shots. If any guy drinks enough, he’ll get whiskey dick. And as mentioned, there’s no magic amount. It’s different for every guy and even every situation. The only real way to avoid the chances of not being able to perform is to not drink at all.
You Shouldn’t Take It Personally
If you’re wondering what to do as a supportive partner, just don’t make him feel bad and wait it out. Trying to help start his penis up again might do more harm than good. “When you numb something up, its numb,” says Turek. “Pushing, pulling, squeezing or rubbing harder is like trying to start a fire with a wet log.”
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.