Drinking is fun, sex is fun - is it really that hard to imagine that the two are frequently intertwined?
From Monday's Irish Independent
Half of us prefer to be a bit tipsy before diving under the sheets -- a very sobering statistic, writes Susan Daly
Monday October 12 2009
An ex-boyfriend and I were 'seeing' each other for about a month before we had our first date. How's that, you ask? Well, I used to jokingly tell people, we had to go on an official date in broad daylight to make sure that we liked each other sober.
I don't consider myself to be a drunkard, but the reality of Irish relationships is that many of them are kickstarted by the social lubrication of a few drinks. In the case I mention above, we were work colleagues and the more Americanised culture of going on dates had yet to take firm grip in Ireland.
If anything, it felt more normal at the time to confirm an attraction over post-work drinks than to organise a stiff meeting under the clock at Clerys.
With that model of Irish romance in mind, it's difficult to be shocked by the new survey that found that half of its female respondents preferred to have sex with alcohol on board. The survey was conducted among 3,000 women in the UK, on behalf of a female hygiene company called FemFresh.
As such, it's neither an academic nor an exhaustive study but it does throw up plenty of food for thought, especially as the Irish social scene is aligned with the British style of pub culture.
"In other European cultures, meeting in coffee shops might be more popular, or wine bars where you might eat a tapas or two with a glass of wine," says HotPress sex columnist Anne Sexton, "but in English and Irish social life the pub is our first port of call. Pub culture doesn't encourage sober interaction."
There may be more to the results, however, than the fact that our socialising normally coincides with alcohol. Some 6pc of the women surveyed admitted they had never had sex sober. That's a pretty grim statistic, one you might normally associate with people who had severe drinking problems.
Recovered alcoholic Eric Clapton, for example, once revealed that he did not have sober sex until he was in his 30s. Last year on the Celebrity Rehab programme in the US, model and actress Amber Smith admitted she had reached the age of 27 without ever having sex while sober.
Research from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis revealed that there was a direct link with high rates of alcohol dependence and an increased number of sexual partners -- 41pc of frequent bingers indulged regularly in unplanned sex, while this happened to only 8pc of occasional drinkers.
Heavy drinking leads to reckless and unsafe sex: that's a given. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and disables a neurotransmitter in the brain which normally causes us to conduct ourselves with reason and rationality.
It's the finding that at least half of us prefer to be a bit tipsy before diving under the sheets that is more complicated.
The folks at FemFresh made a bit of a leap from their findings to state: "These results are a clear indication that British women today are severely lacking in confidence. The fact that alcohol plays an integral role in their love lives shows that women are looking for a boost in self-esteem when it comes to their bedroom antics."
Substitute 'Irish' for 'British' and is that a fair portrayal of our sex habits? Are Irish women too shy and body conscious to let loose without booze? Anne Sexton agrees that negative body image is a huge element of it. "It is recognised that in the western world, most women have body-image issues. We start to be critical about our bodies from about the age of eight and that definitely has an impact on our comfort levels about being naked with our partners."
Susie Orbach, who wrote Fat Is A Feminist Issue 30 years ago, has published a new book called Bodies which argues that women are racked with "body anxiety". We are bombarded on all sides by images of perfect models and celebrities, diet products and weight loss reality shows. It isn't a stretch to suggest that many women need some Dutch courage to reveal their un-airbrushed, wobbly reality.
Aside from the body-image issue, Sexton believes that our social confidence is also shaky. That goes for men too. Sexton lived in Ireland until she was eight years old, before her family moved to South Africa.
When she returned to live in Ireland eight years ago, she says she was surprised by the amount of casual sex that was happening among people "really off their heads with drink".
It's not that we're all alcoholics -- it's just that adults in their 30s still suffer from a certain amount of discomfort around the opposite sex and alcohol has become a normalised tool to overcome that.
"You see with the newer generation that boys and girls mix easily but with people in their 30s there is not a huge amount of genuine friendship going on across the gender barrier. If there is a mixed group it's normally couples. There is a nervousness around sex and alcohol lubricates a lot of sexual action. That's why the one-night stand has become popular. You go out, get drunk, have sex and leave before you have to confront the fact that you have had sex with this person."
A personal ad which was posted on the free website gumtree.ie last week shows that some people are actually turned off by the prevalence of drink on the dating scene. The ad was titled: Genuine male looking for lady who enjoys sex without alcohol. The 29-year-old poster explained that he had just moved to Cork and was "looking to meet sexy lady who can enjoy all of lifes (sic) sexy wonders without alcohol".
But most of us don't get blotto to have sex, all of the time. Scientists say there are perfectly sound biological reasons why women like a glass or two to make everything look rosé in the bedroom. Research in the respected Journal of Sexual Medicine last August showed that a glass or two of red wine is good for a women's libido.
Dr Nicola Mondaini, who led the Italian study, said that while drink could have a negative effect on male sexual performance, a moderate amount significantly intensified the sexual pleasure of women.
Women are not necessarily self-medicating themselves with plonk in order to get it on with their partners. As Anne Sexton points out, our busy lives often mean we have just a small window of relaxation time.
You are not likely to mix yourself a G&T while cooking the dinner and bathing the baby. The glorious moment when you get to sit down with a glass of Rioja at the end of the day is going to coincide with possibly the only alone time you and your partner might get.
But if you're having a drink because you find you no longer desire your partner at all, says Sexton, that's another matter. "There are not many relationships that will survive that, drink or no drink."
Drunken sex is a comedic staple for film and TV makers -- although the female characters who have it frequently end up paying a high price ...
KNOCKED UP: A beautiful TV presenter, played by Katherine Heigl, puts on her beer goggles for some clumsy fumbling with layabout pothead Seth Rogen.
While Rogen's character is thrilled at playing outside his league, Heigl's wakes up hungover, horrified and -- in the best tradition of unsafe drunken sex -- pregnant.
SEX AND THE CITY: Lawyer Miranda feels so intimidated by her handsome new date that she tries to bolster her confidence about her own looks with a series of double vodka martinis.
She drags him back to her apartment, waking in the morning to a splitting headache and a note on her hall table from her date advising her to seek help for her drinking problem.
21: Even beautiful actors have turned to the bottle to get the courage to strip off. Kate Bosworth and Jim Sturgess revealed that they both got drunk before filming steamy sex scenes for casino movie 21 last year.
"We decided to have a couple of drinks, loosen up and go for it," Kate told People magazine. "It was brilliant for about half an hour," added co-star Jim. "As we continued to drink... it just became messy and sloppy."
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA: Javier Bardem plied both Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall with fine Italian wines and cognac in the last Woody Allen movie.
Hall's character Cristina resists temptation but Johansson's Vicky sways drunkenly to his hotel room -- only to get sick on his bed.