Recently, I listened as a prominent sex researcher summarized the sexual impairment caused by dozens of drugs, both legal and illicit. Her list included marijuana. Afterward, several in the audience asked why.
"Because it's sex-inhibiting," she replied.
"No it isn't," several countered. They all agreed it was sex-enhancing.
The presenter immediately pulled out her citation, one lone report published 40 years previously showing that marijuana reduced testosterone by up to half, enough for many women and some men to suffer libido loss.
Returning home, I delved into the literature and discovered what this researcher had failed to mention. The study she cited triggered a flurry of reports on marijuana and testosterone. Those studies, published in the late 1970s, showed no significant marijuana-induced suppression of the hormone, and no significant loss of libido or sexual impairment in lovers who used it, even frequent users.
During the 1980s, several studies considered pot's effects on lovemaking. The results were all over the map, from strongly sex-inhibiting to strongly sex-enhancing. The best report, based on interviews with 97 adults in Kansas City, showed that "over two-thirds reported increased sexual pleasure and satisfaction with marijuana use. About half of both sexes also reported increased sexual desire while using marijuana. Emotional closeness and physical enjoyment of snuggling were also enhanced." But one-third said the drug was not sex-enhancing, and half reported no increase in desire. [Weller, RA and JA Halikas, "Marijuana Use and Sexual Behavior," Journal of Sex Research (1984) 20:186.]
That was pretty much where things stood for 20 years.
Then, in 2003, Canadian researchers interviewed 104 Toronto adults about their reactions to marijuana. Did it increase libido? One-quarter said it "often" or "always" did, 40 percent said "sometimes," and one-third said it "seldom" or "never" enhanced their sexual desire. About half called the drug sex-enhancing, but half said it was not. One-third said sexual enhancement was a key reason they used weed, but half said sex played little, if any, role in their use of the drug. [Hathaway, AD, "Cannabis Effects and Dependency Concerns in Long-Term Frequent Users," Addiction Research and Theory (2003) 11:441]
In 2008, another Canadian team interviewed 41 adults. About half said marijuana boosted their libidos, increased sensitivity to touch, and enhanced erotic pleasure. But half said it did not. [Osborne GB and C Fogel. "Understanding the Motivations for Recreational Marijuana Use Among Canadians," Substance Use and Misuse (2008) 43:539]
This range of findings is pharmacologically unique. The sexual effects of every other mood-altering drug--alcohol, amphetamines, antidepressants, cocaine, narcotics--are well-documented, fairly consistent, and not particularly controversial. But oddly, marijuana's sexual effects are highly unpredictable, from strongly sex-inhibiting to strongly sex-enhancing. Those who call it sex-inhibiting typically report that it pulls them deep inside themselves, so far inward that they lose their sense of connection to their partner. Meanwhile those who call marijuana sex-enhancing usually say that it boosts desire, adds to enjoyment of sensual touch, helps them feel closer to their partner, and enhances overall sexual pleasure and satisfaction.
Unfortunately, all three of studies I mentioned involved small numbers of participants (97, 104, and 41). Let's correct that. How does marijuana affect you sexually? Is it sex-inhibiting? Sex-neutral? Or sex-enhancing?
And please encourage your friends to weigh in on this issue. Results from surveys involving self-selected samples can't be considered definitive, but the larger the number of respondents, the greater the credibility of the results, which I promise to tally in a future blog post.
How does marijuana affect your sex life?