Can cannabis improve your sex life?
Pretty much everyone’s heard the old idiom about how “opposites attract.” But who buys into that? When’s the last time you found yourself seriously attracted to someone with wildly different perspectives, values and interests than your own? And how did that work out?
In the 1977 Woody Allen film Annie Hall, the title character, played by Diane Keaton, likes to get stoned before having sex. But her boyfriend thinks it cheapens the experience. When he takes the pot from her hand, Keaton’s character tries getting intimate sober.
Maybe you know how that worked out. Or perhaps you’ve never seen Annie Hall’s sober out-of-body experience—her spirit seemingly having left her body suggesting it might do some drawing until the lovemaking has concluded. It’s a funny scene, but Keaton’s character isn’t a Cheech-and-Chong-type caricature of a pothead, and that’s part of what makes the movie so great. Annie Hall’s just like a lot of stoners—maybe you’re among them—who think a bit of cannabis tends to make things generally smell, taste and feel better. In fact, a lot of cannabis users report enhanced sexual experiences while under the influence. And academic studies corroborate the claim.
In the weeds
Studying cannabis and how it affects people has historically been difficult. The drug is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as Schedule I, making it more difficult to study than lower schedule drugs—those deemed less addictive—like cocaine, opium and PCP. But though they’ve been few and far between, some older studies do exist. For example, in 1984, the Journal of Sex Research published a survey of college students that found cannabis users reported increased sexual desire and pleasure as well as more frequent sexual encounters.
Studying cannabis is still difficult. But as states around the country have relaxed their marijuana laws with legislation clearing the way for medical and, in some cases, recreational use, academic studies have corroborated the claim that it’s high time to accept that cannabis and sex go hand in hand—at least for people who already use the drug.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showed a positive correlation between cannabis use and sex frequency in both men and women and across demographic groups. Stanford University urologists Dr. Michael L. Eisenberg and Dr. Andrew J. Sun used the Centers for Disease Control’s National Survey of Family Growth to evaluate whether or not there’s an association between marijuana use and the frequency with which people have sex. They looked at information from more than 50,000 people and determined that pot users have sex more often. In fact, daily users reported having 20 percent more sex than people who said they never used the drug.
In another 2017 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers used a smaller sample of subjects to try to determine the relationship between marijuana use prior to sex and sexual function in women. The researchers found that among cannabis users, 68 percent reported the drug made sex more pleasurable, while only 16 percent said it ruined sex. The remaining 16 percent were undecided or unaware of how cannabis affected their sex lives. Among the women who said cannabis improved sex, 72 percent said this was always the case, while 24 percent said pot only sometimes increased their erotic pleasure. Sixteen percent of pot users surveyed said they purposefully, regularly got high before sex. When the same research team widened its survey sample to include 289 women who admitted to using cannabis before sex, the results were similar, with 65 percent of ladies saying it enhanced their sexual experiences, 23 percent reporting it made no difference and three percent claiming it ruined sex for them.
One thing pretty much all of the recent cannabis studies and surveys have in common is an assertion by the researchers in their conclusions that more studies are needed to fully understand the intersection of pot and sex. Provided marijuana legalization isn’t rolled back in the U.S., it seems likely these studies will be conducted. There may even come a time when people talk with their regular physicians about pot and its potential to improve their sex lives.
Some doctors and sex therapists with strong online presences already advocate for the drug, like sexologist Dr. Nick Karras—author of The Passionate High: A guide to using cannabis for better sex & creativity. According to a post on Karras’ website, combining sex and cannabis can help people in a variety of situations, including “long-term couples who have lost their spark, new partners getting intimate for the first time, people experiencing pain during sex, women with difficulty achieving orgasm, men with trouble ejaculating too quickly, partners with mismatched libidos, elderly couples looking to reignite their passion,” as well as people who suffer from depression, body dysmorphic disorder “or other social anxieties that inhibit sexual desire and performance.”
But don’t expect your regular doctor or even a sex therapist to talk too openly with you about cannabis—and for good reason. Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, medical professionals can lose their jobs over it. In October 2018, Vice News published a story about doctors who’ve had their medical licenses suspended for smoking pot off duty, like a “neurosurgery resident in California who said she smoked weed on her days off” or a doctor in Washington, “who was only reported and tested when a patient complained about him after he refused to prescribe unnecessary opioids.” And that’s to say nothing of the doctors who’ve lost their licenses in states around the country for the ways they’ve prescribed or recommended marijuana to patients.
When it comes to sex therapists, some may be willing to chat about sex and cannabis—but many may not. And their concerns about doing so aren’t without merit. Sex therapists sometimes see people who are not good candidates for drug use—sometimes even people who’ve been convicted of sex crimes for having done just that.
Take Reno family and marriage therapist Steven Ing. Talking about sex and sexual health is something he does often with clients—but talking about pot and sex is not. In an email, Ing explained, “recommending different chemical or pharmaceutical agents is beyond the scope of my licensure and patients who seek consultation of this kind are referred to a physician.”
He went on to explain that while he sees no problem with people in safe, healthy relationships exploring a myriad of sexual possibilities, “pot, like alcohol, when used for sexual purposes carries tremendous risk.” Ing said he’s even had some clients over the years who were convicted of sex crimes “because, even though they also were under the influence, they were convicted of a felony for having sex with someone when they ’knew or should have known there was an impaired ability to give consent.’”
Therapists like Ing might recommend a person talk to their physician if they ask about cannabis, but whether or not physicians can—or will—speak to it, may be another matter. Reno physician Dr. Robert Watson responded to an interview request, saying he’d have been happy to help but isn’t particularly familiar with “the work done with cannabis and libido or sex.”
Watson explained that he, too, is aware of reports that people who partake in cannabis have more frequent sex and often report it as more enjoyable. And he’s aware of the human body’s endocannabinoid system and how it works.
The body, he wrote, “produces its own cannabinoids, anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG).” It’s this system that cannabinoids from pot interact with to produce medical and sensory effects.
“It is involved with pain, reproduction, mood, memory, appetite and more,” Watson said. “It is the largest receptor system in our bodies and yet remains left out of medical education with the exception of only a couple of medical schools.”
Watson asked the only other physician in town he’s aware of who knows a good deal about cannabis if he could speak to questions about pot and sex, but that doctor said it’s not his area of expertise either.
“I know of no other physicians in town who know cannabis,” he wrote. “I hope that begins to change.”
In the meantime, people’s best resource for learning about mixing cannabis and sex may be their local budtenders.
“Because the nature of what we’re doing is quasi medical, I think that a lot of our staff members are comfortable having those kinds of conversations,” said Amy Oppedisano, creative marketing and branding manager for Blüm and a co-founder of its parent company Terra Tech Corp.
“People come in for a lot of things,” she said—including advice on pot and sex. And most dispensaries these days carry cannabis-infused sex products, like lubricants and massage oils.
In Blüm’s Nevada stores, the only pot lubes currently for sale are oil based, making them unsafe for use with condoms, which will degrade and break down when exposed to oil and friction. But according to Oppedisano, the dispensary’s California locations carry a lube that’s condom safe—and the product could be rolled out in Nevada stores soon, too. In the meantime, the dispensary offers several other products that are conducive to sexy time and even sexual health.
“We have menstrual relief oil, as well as an intimacy oil,” said Blüm budtender Lindsey Salinas. “I also have a CBD tea that we just got in. That’s really nice.”
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in pot. After tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it’s the second-most abundant one in marijuana. Salinas said she’d only just begun experimenting with CBD-only products.
“And I really enjoy it,” she said. “It’s very calming, very euphoric, without it feeling like you’re all high or you’re out of control and loopy.”
According to Salinas, Sexy Time, a product made by the company Apothecanna, is the most popular among the intimacy oils for sale at Blüm. As of press time, the product is only available with CBD, but the company has recently released a version with a one-to-one ratio of THC and CBD, and Salinas thinks customers will respond well to it.
“A lot of times a lot of customers see more benefit from that, especially when they’re trying to get in the mood because it creates more of an effect with the body,” she said. “It kind of gets them out of their heads. I’ve even found for myself that if you’ve had too much THC, you can’t concentrate, and you’re just kind of all over the place.”
Blüm General Manager Christine Gamez said she thinks CBD-only products are particularly great sex facilitators for millennials.
“So many people in our generation struggle with anxiety, in general,” she said. “CBD-only products help relieve that, especially if it’s a newer relationship where you might be feeling nervous, or feeling nerves to take that next step. And, of course, it’s more of a pregame thing. It’s not like you’re going to be in the bedroom sipping tea, but you can kind of get there before you’re there.”
But how often are potentially anxious customers comfortable asking their budtenders to recommend products to aid them in the bedroom?
“I would say daily I get asked that question,” Salinas said. “I’m not sure if it’s easier for folks to approach me because I’m a woman. They may feel more comfortable. I actually kind of push it because I feel like most people don’t know. Anyone who comes in—you’ve got a mother, you’ve got a grandma, a girlfriend, an auntie who can benefit from [these products].”
“And we do have some people who don’t even know that these types of products exist,” Gamez added. “They just expect to suffer from cramping or irritability or anxiety. And so we do try to display these products in our displays so it’s like, ’Sexy Time? What’s that?’ All of the questions roll out, and 25 minutes later they’re still having a conversation about these issues and finding a remedy for them.”
What kinds of issues do budtenders like Salinas help tackle—like how do I combat the vaginal equivalent of cottonmouth or is there a strain of bud that’s particularly conducive to sex?
“I get that question often,” she said. “A lot of people think there’s a sex weed, and that’s a common misconception. It breaks down into the terpenes. And the terpenes, of course, are the essential oils of the cannabis plant. And, for example, limonene is great. It’s an anti-inflammatory. It’s also one that’s known to help you de-stress, to kind of just wind down and get out of your head. Anytime I’ve referred any flower that’s high in limonene, I’ve had customers come back and say, ’That’s really worked for me. I was really in the mood.’ ”
But she said, it depends on the person. People should be prepared to look for strains high in limonene, but also be ready to experiment with a few different strains with varying concentrations of THC and CBD to find out which ones work best for them.
“People think, specifically, there’s a sex weed, but I haven’t discovered one,” Salinas said. “If I had, I’d have smoked it already.”