Do 'Beer Goggles' Really Make People More Attractive?
- Alcohol is a perception-changer. Under its influence, we might find people more attractive than we would if we were sober.
- That's where the term "beer goggles" comes in; it's the idea that we see other people in a different light when our mind has been altered by alcohol.
- It can be funny to think about the silly things we've done when we've had a few too many, but there are always real concerns when it comes to alcohol consumption.
There may not be any hard data to prove this, but it seems likely that some one-night stands may involve some alcohol.
No doubt there are exceptions, but some people find an alcoholic drink or two gives them that "liquid courage" boost needed to chat up a stranger. One common side effect of alcohol consumption is often referred to as "beer goggles," or the misjudgment of another person's physical attractiveness due to alcohol impairment.
We'll examine the beer goggles phenomenon, how it works, the history of the term and what science says about how our perceptions change when we're intoxicated.
What are beer goggles?
Drinking alcohol changes our perceptions. Short-term effects of alcohol consumption on the brain may include the following:
- Lower inhibitions
- Sense of euphoria
- Impulsive behavior
- Sense of physical relaxation
- Mood changes
- Slowed or slurred speech
- Loss of coordination
- Changes in hearing, vision or perceptions
It's this last listed effect—changes in people's perceptions—in which the idea of beer goggles fits in. Beer goggles—aka drunk goggles or drinking goggles—is a term used to describe the altered perceptions of an intoxicated person, specifically their heightened ability to find other people better looking than they might when they're sober.
The notion of people having lower standards due to intoxication fits in neatly with the idea that we are likely to behave more wildly and with lower inhibitions in general when we're drinking.
However, remember that alcohol also has other effects.
"The only reason there's a myth that alcohol helps with sex is because of the effects on your nerves and inhibitions," said Niket Sonpal, M.D., a gastroenterologist and adjunct assistant professor of clinical medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City. "Alcohol use does not help with sex. It leads to erectile dysfunction and changes in blood flow and doesn't actually help with performance. It reduces sexual response and can lead to ED, so it can become problematic."
These alcohol-induced issues don't only affect guys. Research indicates alcohol intoxication in women can lead to sexual dysfunction as well, in the form of dryness, lower sensitivity and other issues—sometimes called "whiskey clit."
Your beer goggles may be the least of your worries if you're trying to hook up.
"While it may initially lower inhibitions and increase desire, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to difficulties in achieving or maintaining an erection for men, or difficulty reaching orgasm for both men and women," said Martha Tara Lee, Ph.D., D.H.S., an AASECT-certified sex educator and clinical sexologist with Eros Coaching in Singapore.
"Additionally, alcohol can affect your memory, leading to a hazy recollection of the sexual experience. This can detract from the enjoyment and connection you may have with your partner," Lee said.
Where did the term 'beer goggles' come from?
If you feel like the phrase beer goggles has been in the lexicon forever, you're not alone. Even "The Simpsons" has made jokes about the phenomenon, imagining a world in which physical glasses could somehow mimic what a drunk person sees and hears.
The term was coined sometime in the 1980s by college students in the United States, according to the Guardian. The first time it appeared in print was in a 1987 issue of Playboy magazine—big surprise—and by the 1990s, it had crossed the pond to the United Kingdom.
The term has been christened as part of the official English language, finding a place in the Merriam-Webster dictionary: "the effects of alcohol thought of metaphorically as a pair of goggles that alter a person's perceptions, especially by making others appear more attractive than they actually are."
Are beer goggles a real thing?
While we can joke about altered attractiveness ratings and unfortunate romantic judgments that result from alcohol consumption, there is a potentially darker side to the beer goggles phenomenon.
We may realize afterward that our behavior changed due to being tipsy, but we may not see it that way at the time. In the heat of an intoxicated moment, you may not perceive that your perceptions are altered—whether you're judging another person's suitability as a short-term partner or thinking about squaring up to a big bouncer.
That can lead to risky sexual behavior.
"It's crucial to be aware of your level of intoxication," Lee said. "Pay attention to how alcohol affects you personally, as it can vary depending on factors like your weight, metabolism and what you've eaten. Keep in mind that alcohol can impair judgment and decision-making abilities."
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What does science say about your perception of attractiveness when you're intoxicated?
Dozens of studies have looked at the beer goggles experience, so either scientists can't hold their liquor or this is a common phenomenon.
Maybe we're getting this whole beer goggles thing backward. While intoxicated people's perceptions of attractiveness didn't change, their liquid courage permitted them to approach more attractive people, a 2023 study suggested.
People who thought they were drunk—even if they'd only been given a placebo instead of alcohol—judged themselves to be more attractive, bright, original and funny when they were asked to read a speech, according to a 2013 study.
The beer goggles effect may be bidirectional—that is, people who have a little booze in them appear to be more attractive than their sober selves when viewed by others, a 2015 study suggested.
Do beer goggles affect the attractiveness of things, not just people? With alcohol, faces that were deemed to be low and moderate in attractiveness were judged higher, as were less-attractive landscapes, a 2014 study found.
Alcohol even affects the courtship behaviors of fruit flies. When exposed to alcohol, male fruit flies attempt to court other males, behavior that isn't described in sober flies. The more they were conditioned to alcohol, the more they displayed this male-male courtship in a 2008 study.
The bottom line
It can be funny to think about some silly things we did when we'd had a few too many drinks.
On a more serious note, remember that alcohol can have detrimental effects on our lives, even just in the realm of choosing partners. Perhaps knowing how much our judgment can be altered can help lead to better decisions.
"Engaging in risky health or sexual behaviors while intoxicated can be influenced by various factors," Lee said. "Some individuals may use alcohol as a way to cope with underlying emotional issues or to seek validation.
"It's important to reflect on why you might engage in risky behaviors while under the influence and consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor who can help address these underlying issues."