The debate continues.
Oleg Zharsky / Stocksy
Two of the most accessible and common recreational drugs in America, alcohol and cannabis, have earned their place in many hearts as a key to enhancing the overall experience of sex. Weed is an aphrodisiac, wine can improve libido, and beer can make dicks harder—we've heard it all, from the best researched to the flimsiest of claims.
But which does the trick most effectively? I reached out to some professionals who study human behavior, sexuality, alcohol and cannabis to learn more about which substance heightens our pleasure the most during sex.
Perhaps it's true that the west coast, where I live, is a stoner's paradise, but the fact remains that cannabis doesn't carry a high risk of dependency, and people enjoy it with good reason; from relieving muscle pain to alleviating symptoms of diseases like Parkinson's, its physical effects on humans seem overwhelmingly positive. Many theorize that cannabis can increase sexual pleasure, and with multiple forms such as smokables, edibles, and even weed-infused lubricant, it's never been easier to find the perfect way to get high.
About half the people I spoke to were in favor of cannabis as an aphrodisiac, among them "The Cannasexual," Ashley Manta, a sex educator and cannabis writer. I had to ask her: Is the grass truly greener on the Team Weed side?
"The biggest benefit of using cannabis for sex is that it can help people get out of their heads and into their bodies," she says. "The biggest downfall with using cannabis for sex is that it's easy to over-consume." Manta went on to explain that overconsumption of THC carries potential for anxiety and even paranoia, so consume it with caution.
Erich Goode, a sociology professor at Stonybrook University, has had a hand in the world of sex and drug behaviors since the '60s when he published an article based on his research in the now-defunct Evergreen magazine. Even back then, his studies found that out of 200 people surveyed, 77 percent of the more frequent users said that cannabis increased arousal and 68 percent said cannabis increased pleasure.
"Mainly the 'enjoyers' said that the drug makes them less inhibited, allowing them to become more sensuous. Some said they came up with new sexual ideas [while] high," Goode says.
While drinking and smoking may both been linked to less inhibited—or, in buzzkill terms, reckless—sexual behavior, you might be less likely to try and raw-dog it when you're high than when you're drunk, says Matthew Wayne Johnson, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins. "About 30 to 40 studies, including research that we have published, overall show pretty convincing evidence that administering alcohol decreases likelihood of condom use in response to various hypothetical casual sex scenarios. Only one study has examined cannabis using such methods, and actually found cannabis caused people to judge sex with a risky partner as significantly less desirable, suggesting a potential decrease in risk behavior."
Why might that be? As most people know, one potential adverse effect of smoking up is paranoia, where they feel more risk-averse than risk-prone. "From this, one might speculate that cannabis might make some folks more concerned about STIs while sex is being initiated, in contrast to alcohol, which tends to decrease stress about negative consequences," Johnson says. (Who says paranoia doesn't have a silver lining?)
"So the problem for drunk sex with me, if I'm too drunk—which is often—is that I'm just going to fuck it up. If I am high, and not too awkward to the point where a [woman] still wants to sleep with me, I am feeling pretty good about life," says Daniel*, 27. "It's always better than drunk sex. Nothing good happens after a six-pack of Miller High Life and a few shots of cheap whiskey."
Imbibing, of course, has been linked to negative effects like impaired judgment and liver failure, "whiskey dick," and yes, alcoholism. So as you might expect, it's nearly impossible to find a professional willing to go on the record in support of pairing alcohol with sex. All that said, the sauce remains undeniably popular in the bedroom and not without reason: Booze––when used in moderation––has sedative effects that help chill us out and lower inhibitions, for better or worse. It's also legal, readily available, and let's not forget beer goggles.
"Two drinks is probably my preferred [level of] intoxication [for sex]," says Casey, a 25-year old-woman from Brooklyn, "especially when it's a new relationship or fling. I feel more at ease, loose, and I think both of us open up a space to be a little kinkier or uninhibited." More than two drinks, though, and she says things can get a little too sloppy. Everything in moderation, right?
Ducky DooLittle––a certified sexual assault and violence intervention counselor, and sexual abuse survivor––touts some of the inhibition-related benefits of alcohol, but also notes that it isn't a permanent solution for nerves around the bedroom.
Describing her experience as a young adult, DooLittle says, "The only way I could let my guard down and have sex was if I had been drinking. In my early 20s, when I found myself in a long-term relationship, it got hard to orchestrate the sexual situations. Next thing I knew I was trying to have sex without booze and I was a mess. So I can say that drinking did help me find affection, sex, pleasure, and fun, but when I wanted something deeper with a person, I had to stop drinking. When I talk with other survivors [of sexual abuse] they report similar experiences."
DooLittle was the only professional I interviewed who was willing to say anything even remotely positive about alcohol and sex—and even her very mild praise came with a caveat. Why are so many professionals unwilling to speak to alcohol's upside?
Probably because while happy hour makes for a great date and has led to many a solid hookup, research suggests that regular overconsumption of alcohol doubles the risk for sexual assault. (The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism makes a point of noting that, while the risk is indeed increased, sexual assault is never the victim's fault.)
The reality is that, while booze can be used responsibly, yielding stronger connections, greater feelings of relaxation, and more willingness to be more adventurous, it can also be used take advantage of people, so it makes sense that professionals are reluctant to endorse it. But if you and a partner are responsible, consenting adults, there are good reasons to believe a drink or two before bed can make for a night you won't forget—or regret.
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