Sex, Drunk vs. Sober

Drinking puts me in one of two states: horny or depressed. Usually it's the former, because I'm mostly a happy, social drinker. In fact, some of the best sex I've ever had has been after a night of heavy drinking, or maybe that's just how I remember it. Almost every activity feels more exciting during the sensory overload of a good buzz—flirting, eating, gossiping, and yes, even fucking. I've never done Ecstasy, but drunk sex and flirting seem akin to what people have told me about that drug—I get touchy-feely and want to take my clothes off, and my inhibitions about talking dirty, public displays of affection, and body image largely vanish.

However, for the past two years I've been trying to cut back. I can't recover from all-night cocktails like I used to. Yet in the right social situation, I find it hard to say no. Even a single strong sip relaxes me enough to not worry what the person across the table might think of me. It helps me be myself, only better.

A few months ago, I went out with a guy for the vague could-mean-any-number-of-things catchall "drinks." "What are you having?" he asked. A diet Coke, I told him. He looked at me like I'd just asked for milk and Oreos. Even though this was just a friendly chat (or so I thought), clearly my answer was flawed. I insisted on my phenylalanine fix, but for the next round, ordered my favorite, a dirty martini.

He quoted Dorothy Parker to me: " 'I like to have a martini/Two at the very most/After three I'm under the table/After four I'm under my host.' " I proceeded to have two. That date ended with a chaste kiss, but our next date had me literally under the table. By my third and final martini, I'd dropped my cell phone, had my hand in his lap and had bared my breast, which I only remembered the next day when another friend, who was out with us, reminded me he'd snapped a photo. Yet I didn't care, because after my liquid dinner, we stayed up half the night exploring each other's bodies. I felt like I was floating, every touch enhanced, almost like a dream. Looking back, though, I see the folly in my needing to drink. I enjoyed the freedom being drunk gave me—to be reckless, outrageous, fun—but didn't see how it trapped me as well.

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I consulted Tucker Max, who's parlayed his inebriated adventures onto The New York Times bestseller list with I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell (Kensington, 2006), a raucous collection detailing his numerous instances of drinking more in one night than I drink in a year. When I asked Max what's so great about drunk sex, I expected him to extol the thrill of getting shitfaced before picking up a hot chick, but his response couldn't have shocked me more: "It doesn't make a difference for me—I'm the same person drunk or sober. It's not necessarily better or worse."

Most people I talked to agreed that liquor is a powerful sexual as well as social lubricant. "Bree" has to be moderately drunk the first time she sleeps with someone, even if they're already dating. "Kate" used to be "quite the drunken slut." Now she lives with her boyfriend, and a glass of wine makes her sleepy, not sex-crazed, though she'll still indulge on occasion. "Sex gets sloppy and retarded and often nobody comes, but you end up laughing and not really caring," she explains.

One friend is trying to wean himself off drunk sex, which has only led to lackluster bedroom sessions, erectile dysfunction, and awkwardness. However, keeping his vow isn't so simple. "Sober sex isn't easy to find. It's rare to meet sober women comfortable with casual sex. Many promiscuous men find success through altered states of mind," he gripes. "Drunk sex with random partners isn't ideal, but if it's the best you've got, your hormones will be hard-pressed to decline."

Drunken hookups can be fun, but the rewards of sober sex, for many, outweigh the momentary highs of blissfully blotto sex. "Until last year, I didn't have any perspective on the topic because I hadn't had sex sober—or even a sober first kiss," "Robin" admits. "It took having a relationship I felt comfortable in to be open to fucking first thing in the morning. It was amazing to be with someone who'd go down on me in a busy apartment stairwell stone-cold sober." She feels her cutest when flirting while drunk, but is starting to put down the bottle. "More and more, I like sex when I'm sober, as scary as it is, because it's more meaningful and intimate."

One of my favorite hard-partying friends has parlayed her drinking into a foursome, a two-man lap dance, and sex with a popular band's bass player in Vegas (at different times). "I like having sex when I'm tipsy, but not so hammered that one of us falls asleep in the middle of it (which has happened!)." Even Tucker Max ultimately conceded he'd rather be clear-headed in the sack. "If I'm with someone I like, obviously I want to be sober. If you're really drunk, sex sucks—you get dizzy and go forever and can't come. If I'm really drunk, I'll just pass out, then wake up at 5 a.m., roll over, and start fucking," Max says.

I was chatting about this online with a new guy I'm seeing. "What are you like when you're drunk?" he wrote. "Umm . . ." I stalled, not wanting to reveal just how ridiculous I can get at my most wasted. He suggested finding out during our long-awaited movie rental date, but I didn't want our first time to be marred, or even elevated, by being drunk. I wanted to wow him with geeky, silly me, not vodka-horny me.

Alcohol grants us the freedom to be our wildest, most wanton selves. For me, showing someone just how much I like them, letting filthy words and fantasies come out of my mouth, risking rejection once daylight approaches, is intimidating when sober. It requires setting aside all the bullshit about how I'll be perceived or possibly judged. Acting the slutty, spanking-crazed nymphomaniac isn't always cool. In this case, though, I'd say it was just about perfect.

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