The Largest, Best Studies Yet on Sex and Marijuana
In three recent reports, most users say cannabis enhances sex.
Posted August 16, 2018
Not long ago, the U.S. government prohibited almost all research into the effects of marijuana, now increasingly called cannabis. But in recent years, 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and seven states have also legalized its recreational use. One welcome consequence has been a modest increase in research into its effects—including its impact on lovemaking. Three recent reports show that around two-thirds of users find it sex-enhancing.
The Three Recent Studies
Researchers at St. Louis University in Missouri surveyed 133 adult women during annual gynecology check-ups. Thirty-eight (29 percent) reported having used cannabis shortly prior to partner sex. Of that group, 16 percent said it ruined sex, 68 percent said it made sex “more pleasurable,” and 16 percent expressed no opinion. Among those who called cannabis sex enhancing, almost three-quarters (72 percent) said it always increased their erotic pleasure, while 24 percent said it sometimes did. Almost two-thirds (62 percent) said it increased their libidos and the pleasure of orgasm. In addition, 16 percent of users reported consuming cannabis prior to sex specifically to relieve pain that interfered with it.
Next, the same team surveyed a larger group, 289 adult women, during gynecology check-ups. The results echoed the first study. Among the findings were that 33 percent said they’d used cannabis prior to sex. Users and abstainers were demographically similar, with no significant differences in overall health, libido, sexual function, orgasm, or sexual satisfaction. Among users, 3 percent called the herb sex-killing, 65 percent deemed it enhancing, 23 percent said it made no difference, and 9 percent expressed no opinion.
Finally, Stanford researchers conducted the largest study to date. They extracted information about sex and marijuana from three installments of the large, ongoing National Survey of Family Growth—data from 2002, 2006-2010, and 2011-2015. Their total data set included 28,176 women and 22,943 men, average age 30, who formed a reasonably representative sample of the U.S. population. Compared with cannabis abstainers, men who used it weekly reported 22 percent more sex, women 34 percent more. Among those who used marijuana more than weekly, sexual frequency increased even more. This study did not ask if participants found cannabis sex-enhancing, but to an extent, that can be inferred.
These studies confirm and extend previous reports. Most studies—including my own informal survey of readers of a previous blog post—show that around two-thirds of people call cannabis sex-enhancing. This group generally says the drug increases their enjoyment of sensual pleasure and helps them focus intently on their partner. Around 20 percent call it sex-killing, saying the drug makes them withdraw from partners into themselves, which destroys their erotic connection to lovers. And around 15 percent say marijuana’s sexual effects depend on other factors: the strain (sativa or indica), their mood, and their feelings for the other person.
Cannabis Vs. Alcohol
Meanwhile, the drug most widely used prior to sex is alcohol. Many people lose their virginity drunk and quite a few pairs booze and sex throughout life. But depending on one’s weight and tolerance, two or more drinks increasingly depress the central nervous system. This raises risk of erection impairment in men and reduced clitoral sensitivity in women. And in both genders, drunk sex reduces the pleasure of orgasm and decreases sexual satisfaction. In addition, the combination of sex and alcohol greatly increases women’s risk of sexual assault.
I’m not advocating marijuana for sex. That's up to you. Many lovers value total sobriety during lovemaking, and more power to them. But if you feel inclined to combine lovemaking with a recreational drug, know that for most lovers, marijuana seems to be sex-enhancing, while drunk sex is often lousy sex. Unlike alcohol, no study has ever shown cannabis to impair sexual function. And to date, marijuana has never been shown to increase risk of sexual assault.
One Cannabis Caveat
With edibles, dose control is more difficult than with smoking or vaping. Label recommendations can’t be trusted. And edibles may take an hour to produce their effects, so while waiting to get high, some people feel tempted to eat more than they can comfortably handle. In states with legal recreational cannabis, almost all emergency room admissions have involved edibles—people eating too much and later regretting it—suggesting a need for careful experimentation with dosage and timing.
Lynn, B. et al. “The Relationship Between Marijuana Use Prior to Sex and Sexual Function in Women,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2017) 14 (Suppl. 1): S105.
Lynn, B. et al. “The Perceived Effects of Marijuana Use Before Sex,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2017) 14 (Suppl. 5): 3257.
Sun, A.J. and M.L. Eisenberg. “Association Between Marijuana Use and Sexual Frequency in the United States: A Population-Based Study,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2017) 14:1342.