When we drink lots of booze, we have a tendency to find other people more attractive than we otherwise would if we were sober. You probably knew that. Here's what you probably didn't know: This phenomenon—known as "beer goggles"—has been scientifically documented.
For example, in one study, researchers approached straight male and female college students in a bar and asked them to rate their attraction to several people of the opposite sex. The drunker the students were—as determined by a breathalyzer—the higher the ratings they gave.
But a new study just published in The Journal of Social Psychology adds an intriguing twist to that experiment, suggesting that beer goggles don't just increase straight men and women's attraction to people of the opposite sex, but also to people of the same sex.
In the study, researchers approached 83 heterosexual adults who were walking between bars in a Midwestern town late at night. They had the participants complete a survey, which included questions about how many drinks they'd had that night. In addition, they watched a 40 second video of either a physically attractive man or woman drinking at a bar and chatting with the bartender. Afterward, they rated how willing they would be to perform various acts with the person in the video—everything from buying them a drink to going home together to having sex.
In a surprise to no one, the men were more interested when the video featured a woman rather than a man, whereas women showed the reverse pattern. Men also expressed more sexual interest overall than women, consistent with a large body of research that finds men tend to be more open to casual sex with strangers. But then things get really interesting.
The researchers looked at how the amount of alcohol consumed was related to sexual interest in the target. What they found was that, for men, they were equally willing to have sex with the female target no matter how little or how much they'd had to drink. Basically, alcohol didn't seem to affect whether guys were DTF with an attractive woman.
But the more that guys drank, the more interested they became in the male target. While guys who had nothing to drink reported next to no interest in getting it on with a dude, guys who said they'd had more than ten drinks expressed almost as much interest in the man as they did the woman.
The results, however, were a little different for women. Whereas men's interest in the opposite sex didn't change depending on how much they drank, it did for women. Specifically, sober women expressed very low interest in the guy, but the more women drank, the more interested they became. Their interest in the female target followed the same pattern. In other words, as women consumed more alcohol, they become more sexually interested in people of both the opposite and the same sex.
So what's this all about? Why does alcohol seem to increase straight people's interest in experimenting with gay sex? It likely has something to do with the fact that alcohol reduces our anxieties and inhibitions in general, thereby leading us to consider trying all kinds of things we might not normally attempt, sexually and otherwise. Put another way, when we're drunk, we stop worrying about what we're "supposed" to do. This may lead us to say or do things that would typically lead us to feel ashamed or embarrassed.
Experimenting with a same-sex partner is one such thing, given that it's generally considered to be taboo—especially for men. Because Americans are more approving of female than male bisexuality, guys who have any bisexual inclinations often feel pressure to hide them. We know there are a lot of guys concealing these attractions because sexuality is something that falls along a continuum—and can be fluid over time. Translation: People don't fit neatly into gay and straight boxes. As some evidence of this, recent research has found that a surprisingly large number of straight men report watching gay porn and having gay sexual fantasies.
Clearly, there's a great deal of same-sex interest and curiosity bubbling under the surface for a lot of straight-identified men; however, because there's a lot of stigma attached to male bisexuality, these same-sex desires remain hidden most of the time (meaning, when they're sober). Of course, there's a lot of same-sex interest among women, too—in fact, research suggests that sexual fluidity is even more common in women than it is in men. But whereas men are under pressure specifically to conceal same-sex desires, women are under pressure to conceal all sexual desires. This double-standard helps us understand why sober women didn't report much sexual interest in anyone.
All of this is to say that we shouldn't be surprised to learn that alcohol seems to increase same-sex attraction among people who identify as heterosexual—booze might just be a convenient way for men and women alike to unshackle sexual desires they've been told they're not supposed to have.