Most of us realize that we live in a culture where drugs play a significant role in our lives. Whether we take drugs of any kind – and statistics show many of us do – or we refrain from drug use, they impact our lives every day. Americans are surrounded by drugs along with the message that drugs can play a useful role in our lives. I was amazed to read that research shows that people over 45 say they take on average four prescription medications daily. Alcohol is a standard part of our recreational culture. Illegal drugs like ecstasy, cocaine and crystal meth are commonly used throughout the country. It might be surprising then to hear that use of most drugs other than marijuana has stabilized or declined over the past decade. That doesn’t mean that there are not huge drug abuse problems, especially with prescription drug abuse, just that statistics show a leveling off of usage for many drugs, including alcohol.
The popular exception is marijuana. While marijuana is growing in popularity, it is being decriminalized in in a variety of ways in many states. Colorado’s legalization efforts have encouraged other states to follow their lead. Recent research on the medical benefits of marijuana, along with user testimonials, has encouraged the movement towards legal use of marijuana for medical purposes. Legalization of marijuana, once a pipedream of a few, is now commonly discussed.
So, with the green herb becoming so popular, I wondered what research tells us about how the intersection of marijuana and sex. I remember having mixed experiences with marijuana as a perceived aphrodisiac. Sometimes, I found it made me more focused and sensitive to sensual pleasure while seeming to extend time. Other times I felt it overwhelmed my senses and left me tired and distracted.
There seems to be a fair amount of research on the medical benefits of marijuana. Some research shows that patients using marijuana with chronic pain needed fewer pain meds prescriptions. Patients with multiple sclerosis has les painful spasms. Also, research showed that patients with severe inflammatory bowel syndrome began to eat again while using marijuana. So marijuana appears to have important medical benefits. But what about its impact on sex?
Well, there is some current research that helps us get a clearer view of marijuana’s effects on the pleasure of sex. Surprisingly, animal studies have found that cannabis has an inhibitory effect on certain receptors inside the erectile tissue of the penis. Like alcohol, use of small quantities has little inhibitory effect while lowering inhibitions and increasing desire. So, dosage is very important to using and enjoying marijuana during sex. Low doses of marijuana can enhance sex while higher doses typically have the opposite effect. For daily marijuana smokers, the prevalence of erectile dysfunction is three times as high as those who don’t use it at all.
There are other variables to the effects of marijuana. Marijuana is not just one consistent thing. Users need to realize that different strains of cannabis can affect the body in very different ways. While the indica strain tends to have a more relaxing effect, another strain, sativa, tends to be more stimulating. The jury is out as to these various cannabis strains impact sexual functioning. Hopefully new research will tell us more.

People also differ in their sensitivity to marijuana. As many of us have experienced with alcohol, some people can get high with a single drink or toke of marijuana. Others seem to remain in the same state despite heavy intake of the active drug.

So, there are lots of variables using marijuana. But, how does marijuana stack up in terms of use during sex. One way to learn more is through research that reports how marijuana compares to alcohol in the effect on sexual experiences. Joseph Palamar and his colleagues at New York University wanted to see how marijuana influenced the risk for unsafe sexual behavior. They recruited 24 heterosexual adults and did in-depth interviews with them regarding sexual experiences under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. Now one could argue that being “under the influence” could color their memories but their findings published in the July issue of the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior seem relevant none-the-less.
For one, respondents noted that marijuana did not cloud a person’s perceptions of who they were or have the effect of “lowering their standards” for whom they slept with. One 34-year old female said, “With weed I know who I’m waking up with. With drinking, you don’t know. Once you start drinking, everybody looks good.” Marijuana use also was reported more with people the user knew – like girlfriends or boyfriends, rather than strangers. This was not reported to be the case as much with alcohol use.
The study also found that drunk sex often led to regrets while stoned sex typically did not. Males and females both reported “regret, shame and embarrassment” associated with alcohol use rarely reported the same for marijuana use.
Not surprisingly respondents also reported that drunk sex often was associated with nausea, dizziness and even blacking out. Obviously, this presented a real health risk for STDs and personal safety/ On the other hand, they reported that marijuana had fewer negative physical effects but still had a few potential psychological effects – like loss of motivation or distraction.
The interviews consistently said that sexual pleasure was better with marijuana. Quotes from respondents included: According to a make respondent, “Alcohol tends to be a lot more numb. Everything is sort of blunted and muted, whereas with marijuana it’s intensified.” The research showed that both men and women reported longer and more intense orgasms on marijuana. One female respondent said hers were “magnified at least by five times.” The study noted that marijuana led to “more tender, slow, and compassionate sexual acts, and to involve more sensation and sensuality than alcohol.”

Finally, the study found that alcohol was associated much more with risky sexual behavior such as unexpected pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Marijuana users seemed to be more in control and less prone to risky behavior according to the study. Also, the report found a significantly lower incidence of domestic violence among marijuana users than alcohol users.

Well, if nothing else, this study provides a strong warning to limit alcohol use with sex. But, it also paints a somewhat benign image of moderate marijuana use during sex as positive, sensual and less likely to encourage risky sexual behavior.

Now, this study had a small number of respondents and follow-up research is needed. Use of any drug has the potential to increase risky sexual behavior, but the report provides a sense that marijuana use during sex by adults tends to enhance the experience and allow for a sense of personal control.

I encourage any of my readers who are interested in marijuana use during sex to take this information with a bit of a grain of salt. Each person should learn how he or she relates to specific marijuana varieties while alone and then let that experience informs whether and how they use marijuana during sex. If it makes it a better experience for you, great. If you decide to pass it up, fine. Knowing what is right for you and controlling your sexual experience is a solid gateway to pleasure. In fact, knowing how to release any sexual about sex without drugs may be the best aphrodisiac of all.

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