Alcohol and marijuana are among the most popular substances people use to enhance their sexual experiences. But when it comes to their effects, how similar or different are these drugs? A study published this year in the Archives of Sexual Behavior offers some insight.
Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 24 young adults in New York City and asked them to compare their past experiences using alcohol and marijuana during sex. Obviously, this is a very small sample and we must be cautious when it comes to generalizing the findings; however, the results still tell us some important things. Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:
· Many participants said they felt sexier or more attractive after using these substances; however, this effect was more commonly associated with alcohol than marijuana.
· Participants reported that both substances affected their choice of sexual partner, but they were more likely to say that alcohol had a negative effect on partner selection. Alcohol use was linked to having sex with strangers one wouldn’t normally go for because they loosened their normal standards (in other words, they experienced “beer goggles”). By contrast, marijuana use was linked to having sex with a partner who was already known. This difference in partner selection is probably attributable, in part, to the fact that people tend to use alcohol and marijuana in different settings (namely in a bar or club vs. at home).
· Given these differences in partner selection, it is perhaps not surprising that alcohol use was linked to more sexual regret the next morning compared to marijuana. These regrets were most frequently linked to choice of partner; sometimes, however, they involved the specific sexual acts that occurred (e.g., having sex without a condom).
· Alcohol was linked to more sexual performance problems, including erectile difficulties, vaginal dryness, and falling asleep during sex. Some marijuana users reported negative sexual effects as well, but they tended to be more psychological than physical (things such as paranoia and anxiety).
· Both drugs seemed to have dosage effects and were linked to more problems when they were consumed in larger quantities.
· Participants were more likely to say the physical sensations of sex were enhanced or heightened when they were high on marijuana, whereas they were “numbed” with alcohol use.
· Many people said sex lasts longer when they’re drunk, which is likely due to alcohol’s desensitizing effects on the body. Some people thought this was a good thing, whereas others felt it was bad. Marijuana use was linked to feeling that sex lasts longer, even if it didn’t actually last longer (likely because marijuana affects our perception of time).
· Both drugs were linked to inconsistent effects on orgasm. While some felt marijuana led to more intense orgasms, others had difficulty reaching orgasm because they were too distracted. Likewise, while some felt that alcohol delayed or inhibited orgasm, others said that it allowed them to orgasm faster or more often.
· Marijuana was more often described as leading to tender and slow sexual experiences; by contrast, alcohol was linked to more aggressive and intense sex. However, both drugs were linked to trying new things that one might not otherwise do.
Again, let me caution that these findings come from a very small study and we must avoid the temptation to generalize broadly. Also, keep in mind that these findings are based on self-reported data, not a tightly controlled experiment. People may therefore not recall exactly how much of each substance they consumed, and they may not even know things like which strain of marijuana they were using (as you may know, some strains are more relaxing, while others are more stimulating).
More research is clearly needed, but these results suggest that alcohol and marijuana appear to have quite different sexual effects. However, understanding the effects of these drugs is a complex matter because both are subject to dosage effects and they don’t appear to affect everyone the same way.
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To learn more about this research, see: Palamar, J. J., Acosta, P., Ompad, D. C., & Friedman, S. R. (2018). A Qualitative Investigation Comparing Psychosocial and Physical Sexual Experiences Related to Alcohol and Marijuana Use among Adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(3), 757-770.
Image Source: 123RF/Joshua Resnick
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