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As I write this, I am wildly hungover. Nausea percolates deep in my throat, my head feels like a giant hand pried it open, scooped out my brain, and packed the cavity tight with cotton. Having marinated overnight in pooled alcohol, my internal organs seem inflamed and tender, my liver curled up like a spiny hedgehog on the defensive. Even my hair hurts, and while I cannot smell myself, I suspect that the scent of fermentation follows me from room to room as I drag my sad sack of a self around my apartment. What’s dumb is that I did this deliberately, bookending a bottle of wine with tequila shots with the expressed purpose of answering the evergreen question: Does sex cure hangovers?
Does sex cure hangovers?
The short answer, unfortunately, is no.
The longer, more nuanced answer: In its own way, hangover sex does help in that (if you are like me) it’s nice to have someone hold you when your body feels broken. The feel-good hormones your brain releases upon orgasm might also help mitigate the aches and pains associated with over-imbibing. But as far as a cure, sex isn’t one. At least in my experience.
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How do you know whether or not sex cures a hangover?
I had sex this morning, bleary-eyed and floppy in the way of the still-drunk, after enlisting a willing sex partner to get sauced with me and bang it away the next morning. (“Anything for journalism!” he replied to my text floating the experiment.) We woke up around 7:30am to the sound of my unhappily mewling cat, indignant at being shut out of the bedroom for the whole night. Stumbling toward the door, I discovered my fellow researcher had thoughtfully provided me with a bedside trash can, for use in the event of a 4am barfing emergency.
Since this entire thing was my idea and it fell to me to actually grade our session’s curative properties, I had to ensure I’d wake up feeling awful. As such, I did slightly more of the drinking than he did. But together we killed two bottles of red wine and two four-ounce tequilas in the course of maybe three hours. I for one went to bed merrily hammered and woke up to find I had achieved my goal.
I settled in for spooning and, eventually, sex. Even in my fragile, booze-addled state, the contact and the gentle movements (we were both in too delicate a condition to attempt anything particularly gymnastic) felt great, satisfying, and definitely took my mind off the damage I’d done. But while my partner immediately reported an improvement in overall disposition, I didn’t notice much change. The bodily sensations were better, but not in a way that had anything to do with my hangover. In short, I felt like I’d just had sex and also way too much to drink. Four hours later, that remains true. My hangover haunts me still.
Meanwhile, for my partner, things seem to be looking up. “I feel better, more relaxed, but still a little hungover,” he texted me from work, roughly an hour after the deed. “I guess sex doesn’t cure dehydration.” He later added that lifting heavy things on set seemed to help burn off his hangover entirely. As more me, I spent my day writing in bed and feeling sorry for myself, which may explain why I’m miserable and he is relatively fine.
What causes hangovers?
Sex can’t cure a hangover’s underlying causes, and dehydration is the primary cause. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you pee a lot, and many people don’t drink water as they go (I purposefully did not). But there are many other factors.
As IFL Science explains, the headache component comes from the body’s constriction of blood vessels in an effort to regain something like normalcy in fluid retention. This happens everywhere but the brain, which needs blood and the oxygen it provides. Its vessels dilate, causing the blood to pound mercilessly inside your skull. Alcohol also inflames the lining of your gastrointestinal system and cues your digestive organs to up their secretions, which translates to nausea and upset stomachs. Under alcohol’s influence, blood sugar also plummets, leaving you weak and dizzy and, most noticeably, tired. The fact that alcohol impedes deep sleep compounds this factor. Even if you were passed out for a solid eight hours, that sleep might not be restful or restorative.
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How can sex help a hangover?
Sex cannot rehydrate you, or calm your angry organs, or raise your blood sugar, although it can help you sleep. As I have previously reported, it can also soothe a throbbing head: Sex floods the body with endorphins, hormones that act as natural painkillers, and orgasm offers a cocktail of lifting neurochemicals. Serotonin boosts mood and improves sleep; dopamine regulates the brain’s pleasure and reward systems; and oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, helps relieve pain. So, if your body hurts, sex might ease that pain. It did actually dull my menstrual cramps: In addition to all the alcohol-related complaints, today turns out to be the first day of my period. Lucky me.
Anyway, on the whole, I would say that sex did help my hangover, more in a personal comfort way than an obliterating my symptoms way. In that respect, the constant companionship of my concerned cat, a small soft boy, helped. The luxury of working swaddled in flannel and propped up by pillows helped. The fried rice I drunkenly pre-ordered on Seamless helped. Being spooned really helped. But I am still hungover.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Claire Lampen is a lifestyle reporter who covers sex, gender, and reproductive rights. Formerly a Fulbright fellow, she has published work with Vogue, Gizmodo, Refinery29, Teen Vogue, the BBC, Vice, Marie Claire, and more.