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18 December 2006
The Partying Penis And The Horny Hangover
by Paul Aitken

The other day as I was trolling through the paper in my usual attempt to avoid working, I happened upon an interesting statistic. According to Hallmark, the card people, more people have birthdays between August and October than at any other time of the year. It's not just a statistical anomaly either. Year after year the same pattern repeats itself. Twenty percent more babies are born in August than in February. Why would this be?

Assuming that there's no difference in fertility from month-to-month, one would have to say that significantly more people are having sex in the late fall and early winter than at any other time of year. Some pundits have speculated that during the cooler months we snuggle in bed more, which leads to more sex and more babies nine months later. But the problem with the "snuggle hypothesis" is that the coldest month of winter is February, and fewer babies are conceived in February than in any other month save May. Not satisfied with such intellectual sloppiness, I've applied my considerable analytical skills to the problem and believe I've come up with a much more satisfying explanation. Conception peaks appear to correlate strongly with partying, specifically the hard, drink-your-face-off partying that occurs in the period approaching and during the Christmas season.

Now, I know some of you brainiacs out there are harrumphing that hard partying should have a negative correlation with conception because in study after study, excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to have a depressive effect on the elements essential for successful fertilization, namely the ability to: a) achieve an erection, b) maintain an erection and c) not fall asleep before orgasm. But I don't think conceptions occur immediately after an episode of heavy drinking. They occur the next day, in a state most guys will recognize as the "hangover hornies." It's my theory (as far as I know I'm the only person to ever suggest it) that the seasonal variation in birth is due almost entirely to the hangover hornies. Years from now when my theory is validated and I'm giving my acceptance speech in Stockholm you'll remember that you read it here first.

A "horny hangover" is somewhat clumsily defined in the Urban Dictionary as:

"The mysterious and overwhelming urge to have sex the day after a night of hard drinking, despite being completely dehydrated and having a massive headache."

It has yet to receive mention in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged, a lamentable omission in my view considering they have a million words in there like "eucirripedia" that nobody ever uses. Not every guy gets the hangover hornies, but enough do that it's achieved something akin to mythic status. My wife never really believed they existed until one morning after a party she awoke to find me looking at her with a knowing smile and a glint in my bloodshot eye.

Horny hangovers are mysterious because they defy all intuitive logic. They occur during what should be the absolute nadir of our sexual interest. We emerge into consciousness dimly, our poisoned bodies already in full rebellion. Our temples throb with every beat of the heart. Our empty stomachs clench and threaten to regurgitate the ghosts of last night's booze. We're as sick as we can possibly be and yet there is this stirring in our loins. If we have sex it's not, generally speaking, very good sex. Our erections aren't as robust as they usually are. The increase in heart rate often makes the headache worse. There is the constant threat that we will actually vomit before we orgasm, but the desire to continue is so strong that it triumphs over all other discomforts. What the hell is going on?

There has been a deplorable lack of scientific study into the horny hangover enigma, so we are left to speculate as to how widespread the phenomenon is and why it exits in the first place. After conducting a brief and very unscientific survey of friends and Internet postings, I've concluded that it seems to be mostly, though not exclusively, a guy thing. Most men I talked to had some experience with the hangover hornies whereas most women had not. The phenomenon is as real as it is mysterious, but the its existence provides a hint of the complexity of the molecular underpinnings of desire.

Desire has long thought to be positively correlated to levels of serum testosterone. That is, the higher the level of testosterone in the blood, the more sexual desire is apparent. The link has been amply demonstrated in studies of both men and women and is implied by the reduced sexual interest of men who have had their testicles removed.

The paradox of the hangover hornies is that alcohol suppresses serum testosterone. Furthermore, the correlation is inversely proportional with the amount consumed. The higher your level of blood alcohol, the lower your level of serum testosterone. This is thought to derive from the fact that the testicles metabolize and break down alcohol in a manner similar to the liver. The enzymes involved in this metabolism are crucial to the production of testosterone and as these enzymes are diverted, less testosterone is produced. Over the long term, alcohol abuse can result in testicular atrophy and the attendant effects of hypogonadism (i.e. breast enlargement). In the short run, the effects are mostly manifest in impaired sexual function. Hence the Dead Kennedys song, Too Drunk to Fuck.

So, how is it that we want sex so badly after a night of heavy drinking? Well, to understand this we need to dip into the workings of the male endocrine system. Testosterone production is part of a negative feedback system (a self-correcting mechanism), centered in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. In short, the hypothalamus produces a hormone that stimulates the pituitary gland to produce a second hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH), which travels in the bloodstream to stimulate production of yet a third hormone, testosterone. When testosterone levels are low, receptors in the brain and pituitary gland signal these organs to secrete more testosterone stimulating hormones. By the time you wake up on Sunday morning, this corrective mechanism is in full flight.

Because LH is thought to play a role in sexual arousal in itself, its excess explains at least in part your overriding horniness when you awake. It also explains why in spite of this intense desire, you sometimes can't get a full erection - serum testosterone is not yet up to normal levels. It's a passing phenomenon and by midday you'll have less LH circulating and less overt desire. You'll likely be able to achieve a full erection but chances are you won't want to because you'll feel like crap.

Not to worry. By the following day you should be back to normal and ready to go again. And why not! After all, 'tis the season to be merry... in more ways than one.

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