Many people think that taking recreational drugs will help them have better sex. One study in Health Education Research found that 28 percent of British weed smokers ages 16–22 had used the drug to enhance sexual pleasure, along with 63 percent of ecstasy users, 54 percent of cocaine users, 32 percent of amphetamine users, and 26 percent of LSD users. But how exactly do these drugs affect people’s sexual experiences, and what are their downsides?
Those questions can be difficult to answer. It’s hard enough to get sexuality research funded in the first place, let alone when it involves drugs — and illegal drug use isn’t exactly something we all talk to our doctors about. So many people remain in the dark about various drugs’ effects in the bedroom until they try for themselves.
To find out how some of the most popular drugs really affect our sex lives, MEL consulted the research that’s been done so far, experts who have studied this phenomenon, and people who have experienced it firsthand. Here’s what we found.
Weed: Higher Libido and More Orgasms
Multiple studies have found that many people have higher libidos and better sex while they are stoned, according to a recent meta-analysis inPharmacological Research. Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany and author of Understanding Marijuana, says people report having longer orgasms and longer sex overall while they’re high — not because of any sex-specific effect but because everything tends to slow down.
Super Star, a 43-year-old substance use disorder speaker and sober coach from Chicago, has had more intense and even multiple orgasms while stoned. “Everything was just five times more sensitive,” he says.
This probably occurs because weed activates the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, which are associated with sexual pleasure, and decreases anxiety, which can make sex less enjoyable, says Earleywine.
But pot’s sex-enhancing effects have their limits. Peg, a 53-year-old educator and writer from upstate New York, used to get horny when she smoked weed in her 20s. But since strains have gotten stronger, she’s instead just felt anxious and used sex to calm down. Another potential downside is that women may get less wet after smoking, says Earleywine, though Peg didn’t experience this.
MDMA: More Romantic Than Sexual
MDMA, the substance found in ecstasy and molly, makes people highly affectionate and sentimental. This can give sex an “empathetic and connected feeling,” says Earleywine. But when it comes to physical pleasure, MDMA falls short.
Robert, a software engineer in San Francisco, has had sex on molly twice. “The parts of these experiences that I remember is not the sex, but the closeness to the person leading up to it,” he says. During one experience, Robert felt like he and his partner were “in our own universe together that we created through our attention.”
“I remember being really into it, but it didn’t feel amazing physically,” he adds. He was also unable to orgasm, which Earleywine says is a common effect.
Julia*, a 47-year-old San Francisco freelance writer, had a similar experience while on ecstasy at Burning Man. It was spectacular not because of the sex but because of “the lights, the music, the waves in the playa dust on the desert floor, the feel of our clothing and each other’s skin,” she recalls. “I just kept looking up at the sky and all the stars and saying ‘beautiful, beautiful.’ Neither of us came, and we were both so overwhelmed with the beauty and wonderfulness of it all that we stopped having sex after a while and just lay around, enjoying it.”
As Super Star sums it up, “It’s not really even about the actual sex. For me it was about being naked and intimate with your partner.”
Coke: Endless Sex With No Resolution
One study in The American Journal of Psychiatry and another in Psychopharmacology found that cocaine use increases sexual desire. It also tends to make sex last longer and feel more pleasurable, but like MDMA, it makes orgasm difficult, says Earleywine. It can also cause erectile dysfunction, both immediately afterward and in the long term after chronic use, says Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
Sarah*, a 34-year-old Los Angeles writer, can confirm this. “You can have sex until your vag is raw and he just can’t come, or he loses his erection mid-act,” she says of her experiences. Still, she describes sex on coke as “really fun and intense,” especially since it “makes everyone hotter, sexier, and way more interesting than they would be without drugs.”
Coke and amphetamine both activate the dopaminergic system, which creates feelings of euphoria, Earleywine explains. But according to Julia, it’s a narcissistic sort of euphoria — the polar opposite of MDMA-induced connection.
“On coke you don’t need to be touched, and being touched isn’t especially satisfying, but you accept it because it’s right that the world worships you, and this person in particular,” she explains. “The guy was a gym bunny and really very good-looking, but the coke kept me focused more on myself, as it tends to do.” She also couldn’t come and got physically worn out. “It left me feeling pretty blank.”
The negative side effects are more extreme with crack, which left Super Star unable to have sex. “The racing of my heart made it literally impossible to have an erection.”
Amphetamines: Insatiable and “Fiery”
“Amphetamines increase blood flow to the genitals, so I always felt really horny and I’d get really wet,” says Britni, 32, a writer from Boston. There’s evidence confirming that amphetamines increase desire and sexual risk-taking, says Johnson, likely because they work on the dopamine system.
Earleywine says amphetamines can make orgasm difficult, but Britni found the opposite: “I felt so voraciously turned on, I could have sex for hours, was really sensitive to sensations and found it easier to orgasm, and was usually down to be more adventurous and rough.”
Another common experience with amphetamines is a feeling of “heat” in males, says Earleywine. “Ejaculation has a fiery, sometimes hot facet that is unlike their usual experience.”
Super Star describes sex on speed as more pleasurable but less satisfying. “There is something really compulsive about it,” he says. “You don’t get that restful relaxed feeling after orgasm. You just want to go again five minutes later.”
Hallucinogens: Deep Existential Sex
A sexual experience on LSD, magic mushrooms, or other hallucinogens will become more of a philosophical one. Earleywine describes sex on acid or shrooms as “cosmic, as if you’re Adam and Eve having the first sex.” And people’s firsthand experiences don’t sound too far off.
“I was feeling like the thread of intimacy through the history of humanity,” says Brianna*, a 39-year-old Atlanta stay-at-home mom, of sex during an acid trip. “I kept seeing roots and growing things and the sharing of resources between earth and life.”
LSD works on the serotonergic system, which is connected to pleasure, Earleywine explains, which could be why some report enhanced physical sensations.
“The senses of every area of your body were so sensitive that any touch was a form of stimulation,” says Super Star. “Also, inhibitions were significantly lowered, and the drive for sex was off the charts for me. … It seemed to last forever, and that was good for both me and my partner.”
But some hallucinogen-enhanced sex is neither arousing nor enlightening. Peg and her boyfriend couldn’t figure out how to accomplish sex on shrooms and ended up collapsing in a giggle fit.
Sensate Focus: Getting High on Feelings
The good news is that you need not withstand the risks of drugs to see some of these benefits. “These same effects can appear with “sensate focus” — paying careful attention to sex with someone you genuinely appreciate,” says Earleywine.
After committing yourselves to regular sessions of slow, sensual touch and detailed communication, you can feel as emotionally connected as you might on MDMA and as in-the-moment as you might on weed or LSD (though feeling like Adam and Eve is probably out of the question). “This is a lot more work than just licking a tab,” Earleywine acknowledges. “But it’s genuinely time well spent.”
by Suzannah Weiss