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Experts say increased sexual desire and arousal is synonymous with smoking marijuana. However, the smokers we polled made it clear that it depends on who you ask. | Image courtesy: Gage Walker

Marijuana is classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as a Schedule I drug, which means the agency believes it has a high potential for abuse and no medical benefits.

Both this legal status and a lack of funding have slowed research on the substance in general, much less its interactions with sexuality.

But as marijuana becomes increasingly decriminalized and accessible with a medical prescription, more studies are being conducted on its impact. However, personal testimonies demonstrate the only thing we know for certain about combining sex and marijuana: your mileage may vary.

Here are some across-the-board responses given on the link between marijuana and sex:

“The only orgasm I’ve ever had during penis-in-vagina sex without the aid of a vibrator was while really, really high.” – Greta

“I've realized that weed allowed me to dissociate from some really problematic aspects of my sexual health. It allowed me to passively continue to have unwanted sex with a partner I wasn't attracted to and stay in a very unhealthy marriage for entirely too long. It kept me numb enough to push through trauma and prevent me from taking action to improve my life.” – Melanie

“I used to have terrible performance issues due to anxiety and body dysmorphia. Every now and then, I still get flashes of it with my partner. Weed not only has helped with my anxiety and depression outside of my sex life, but because of regular use, it has silenced those negative sexual responses to being touched.” – Nicole

“I feel like weed numbs a lot of the sensations and often makes it harder for me to orgasm, and even strains that are intended to make you feel more energetic usually make me too sleepy to want to move much.” – Rachael

“I find weed, in addition to generally helping me with anxiety and sleep, in the context of sex helps put me in my body and allows me to experience pleasure as a pleasure rather than some confusing mess...Some strains can downright cause anxiety and make me tense and annoyed. Some have the complete opposite effect.” – Dave

Recently, study results published in the journal Sexual Medicine highlighted the impacts of marijuana on women’s sexual desire, arousal, orgasm and satisfaction.

“Most women reported an increase in sex drive, improvement in orgasm, decrease in pain, but no change in lubrication,” the researchers wrote regarding participants who used marijuana. They found women who consumed it (either before sex or in general) had higher odds of reporting satisfactory orgasms.

Previous studies have found that for a small percentage of users, marijuana can ruin sex, but for most people, it makes sexual experiences more pleasurable. The largest study to date, conducted by Stanford researchers, also found that people who use marijuana frequently have more sex.

Locally, researcher Li Lock is looking into sexual behavior and the sexual effects of marijuana consumption. They work out of the Interdisciplinary Sexuality Research Collaborative (ISRC) at Widener University's Center for Human Sexuality Studies, in Chester.

What have they found so far?

“Basically, people have sex while high a lot,” says Lock, who has two Master’s degrees and is finishing a PhD program.

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“I used to have terrible performance issues due to anxiety and body dysmorphia. Every now and then, I still get flashes of it with my partner. Weed not only has helped with my anxiety and depression outside of my sex life, but because of regular use, it has silenced those negative sexual responses to being touched.” 

– Nicole, a marijuana user

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“Speaking very broadly, most people reported increased desire, arousal, pleasure, partner closeness, orgasm strength, and sexual adventurousness. Some people reported no change, and few reported decreases in these effects at the last instance of sex while high compared to sex while sober,” Lock said.

What explains the wildly different experiences with marijuana and sexual drive? Lock says there are a lot of variables: expected effects, dosages, personal physiological differences, method of ingestion and even relationship dynamics.

“Far and away the most consistent and strongest predictor of both general sexual behavior and the subjective effects was enhancement expectancies or the expectation that using cannabis will make sex better,” Lock said.

Lock is hoping for more research on the subject, especially psychophysiological data, which will expand on the currently available subjective reports.

Lock raised several pertinent questions that need to be addressed: “Is there actually increased blood flow to the sexual organs while high? Are the pelvic contractions associated with orgasm actually stronger while high? Do different parts of the brain activate during sex while high?”

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Previous studies have found that for a small percentage of users, marijuana can ruin sex, but for most people, it makes sexual experiences more pleasurable. 

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The tools to do this kind of research exist, but their development “just hasn't been done yet,” Lock explained.

Sex and relationship coach Ashley Manta, who has published over 200 articles on sex and marijuana, agreed.

“I would like to see people masturbating in an fMRI after consuming cannabis by inhalation, and another group masturbating in an fMRI after using a THC/CBD infused topical on their vulvas,” she said. “I want to see what cannabis is doing physiologically, not just what users self-report.”

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Sex and relationships coach Ashley Manta. | Image courtesy: Dean Capture

Manta started out as a sexual violence prevention professional, finding the work meaningful and helpful to her personal trauma healing, but eventually found herself burned out. She switched her focus to the more pleasurable aspects of sexuality, like body confidence and toys, and discovered medical marijuana after moving to California from Pennsylvania.

“I tried a THC-infused genital oil from a company called Foria. I had experienced pain with penetration my entire adult life following my assaults, and this oil was the first product that ever allowed me to have penetrative sex without pain,” she explained.  “I realized there weren't really any sexuality professionals talking about sex and cannabis, and I decided to focus on that as my niche.”

She founded the CannaSexual brand and is now the go-to sexuality educator on the topic. “I have found that cannabis, when mindfully chosen, can help address the things that get in the way of pleasure, connection and intimacy,” she said.

Many of Manta’s coaching clients report getting stuck in their heads during sexual activity and that marijuana can help them be more present in the experience.

“To be clear, I am not trying to convince anyone,” she clarified. “If cannabis is not your thing, for whatever reason, you can still have a fantastic, pleasurable sex life without it. However, if you're curious about cannabis and sex and want to do it well, that's where I come in.”

How do users figure out where to begin?

“This [requires] going on a personal fact-finding mission to determine which methods of consumption (inhalation, topicals, edibles, tinctures, transdermals, suppositories, etc.) are right for you and in what amounts,” Manta said. “I suggest everyone, when determining if a product is good for them for sex or not, try a bit of the new product and then masturbate. Notice what's happening in your body and write it down so you have a trove of body-specific data.”

Should users head to an indica or a sativa strain?

“The indica/sativa distinction is essentially a myth at this point,” Manta said. “They are not reliable predictors of effects. If I had a dollar for every person who has said ‘indica, like in da couch,’ I would have enough money to fund an actual research study.”

She points to findings by Dr. Ethan Russo, a board-certified neurologist and psychopharmacology researcher.

In an article published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, he wrote, “There are biochemically distinct strains of Cannabis, but the sativa/indica distinction as commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility. One cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given Cannabis plant based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology.”

Manta emphasizes that getting high isn’t a requirement for experiencing positive sexual effects. “You can relax in a cannabinoid-infused bath or use a THCA tincture—which won't get you high because it's a non-intoxicating form of THC...or you can use CBD-rich cannabis products or hemp-derived CBD.”

For users who wish to experience a high while engaged in sexual activity with a partner, Manta offers a line of advice: “Make sure you negotiate before you medicate.”

TWITTER: @TIMAREE_LEIGH

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