As the temperatures begin to go down and the festive season gets ever-nearer, who doesn’t love a Saturday night out, drinking mulled wine whilst heating their fingers on the open fire at a local bar. Or snuggled up on the sofa with a bottle of vino and that evening’s trashy TV.

As the longer nights draw in, there’s all the more reason to make the most of the hours of darkness. And when the drinks start flowing, and the conversation is rolling, it’s difficult to know how long you’ve been sat there, as you buy your fifth drink of the evening.

According to Forbes’ science correspondent David Di Salvo, alcohol makes you happy, less inhibited and much more sexually aroused.

By jacking up dopamine levels in your brain, alcohol tricks you into thinking that it’s making you feel great. The effect is that you keep drinking to get more dopamine release, but at the same time you’re altering other brain chemicals that are enhancing feelings of depression. It has an effect on the cerebral cortex in the brain, where thought processing and consciousness are centered. Alcohol depresses the behavioral inhibitory centers, making the person less inhibited; it slows down the processing of information from the eyesears, mouth and other senses; and it inhibits the thought processes, making it difficult to think clearly – this is where the desperation pick up line ‘It’s a quarter to two, you’ll do’ comes from.

Alcohol also depresses the nerve centres that control sexual arousal and performance. Perhaps tragically, although sexual urge may increase, sexual performance decreases – so a drunken fumble isn’t going to be the best of your life either.

In a nutshell if you’ve been drinking all evening, simple biology shows you’ll feel happier and more sociable, much more in the mood to have sex but less inhibited and more likely to pull someone you wouldn’t normally go for (hence the walk of shame on a Sunday morning) – and more likely to take risks with protection.

So here are top tips for confident and safe sex this autumn

Drink sensibly

For the majority of people, having a drink helps us feel more confident, less anxious and more willing to try new things. When we drink it weakens the part of our brain which controls inhibition. Though with a lack of inhibition, it’s easy to forget ourselves – who we are, where we are and what we’re doing – putting us into more dangerous situations.

Taking time away from our busy lives calls for enjoying ourselves; however be sensible. Balance alcohol in-take with water and if you start to feel out of control seek help from a friend or bar manager and head home. Never drink and drive, and when it comes to illegal drugs, it’s best to avoid them completely; especially when drinking.

#Awkward

Each year 640,000 STIs are diagnosed in England (NHS, 2012) – that’s a lot of condoms not being worn… Condoms are the only way to prevent contraction of sexually transmitted diseases so if you plan to have sex this autumn, make sure you always use a condom. Avoid the awkward moment prior to intercourse by making it clear before you begin that you expect protection to be worn and carry a condom in your bag or wallet – don’t expect your sexual partner to have one. A reluctance to use condoms says a lot about the person prepared to sleep with you – don’t take the risk and move on.

Stick to vanilla with a hint of spice

With an increased lack of inhibition, visions of missionary in a hotel bed go out of the window after a few hot toddies. Instead sex by a roaring fire, some dodgy bar alleyway might seem like the best idea at the time. However this type of sex can be unpleasant, painful, embarrassing and unenjoyable for both sexual partners. There’s also the risk of getting caught…

There’s plenty of ways to have adventurous sex without rule breaking or getting mud in places you don’t want it to be. Have fun and think about the location of your sexual encounter before the throes of passion take hold.

Wee, wee

Intercourse can irritate your bladder and therefore cause a urine infection. To prevent, go to the toilet after sex in order to get rid of bacteria which may stay within your uretha. It also gives you a chance to freshen up, ready for round two!

Up the bum, no harm done? A moment on the lips…

Sexually transmitted diseases and infections can be transferred not only by vaginal intercourse; oral and anal sex also pose the same risks. Therefore the same protection rules apply – use condoms!

Know your status

In the UK 26,000 people have HIV yet are unaware. The majority of new HIV diagnoses unknowingly come from these individuals. The only way to have confident sex, therefore, is to know you are clear of any sexually transmitted infections; many of which are symptom-free for a number of months, even years.

In the UK, everyone is entitled to free STI screening at their GP, hospital or local sexual health centres (GUM clinics). For those who prefer to check their status in the privacy of their own home; thanks to advances in technology, self-testing kits are now widely available for a range of STDs including chlamydia and HIV.

Get checked out

If you’ve taken a risk with your sexual health and didn’t use a condom, don’t panic. The important thing is to get tested for sexually transmitted infections as soon as you can. Then, if you’ve caught something, you can start treatment right away. Left untreated, STIs can cause serious complications later in life, such as infertility and impotence, some may even be fatal.