This week’s mailbag question is all about cannabis versus alcohol during sex. Our dear reader submitted the following query:
“I tried to masturbate while tipsy last night and it felt like it took forever and I didn’t enjoy it as much. When I masturbate while high, it feels fantastic. Is cannabis the better choice?
Ah, the big debate. What’s more conducive to pleasure and fulfilling sexual experiences: cannabis or alcohol? I’ve always hypothesized that cannabis is better for sex. It certainly has been in my experience and from anecdotes I’ve heard from others, but before now I had no science to back it up.
Recently, however, sex researcher Dr. Justin Lehmiller posted highlights from a new study about this exact question on his blog. Twenty-four heterosexual adults (12 cisgender men and 12 cis women) in New York City were interviewed about their recent experiences using cannabis before sex and alcohol before sex.
Dr. Lehmiller provides highlights of the data along with some of his own impressions. He does a great job covering the whole study in his post, so I’m just going to pull out a couple of relevant quotes from the actual study. One thing to keep in mind is that this study was focusing on partnered sex, not solo sex, but I think the findings are still relevant to your question.
“…alcohol tended to numb sensation and marijuana tended to enhance sensation” (Palamar, Acosta, Ompad, Friedman 2016 pg. 8). This finding supports your experience that “it took forever” while you were tipsy. Because alcohol is a depressant, it dulls sensation. Think about the old movies when someone would have an injury and need stitches, and another person would hand them a bottle of whiskey to dull the pain. Same idea. Conversely, I’ve found cannabis makes consumers more present and aware of their bodies, especially with lower doses.
“Numerous participants felt that they were still able to make good decisions on marijuana and maintain self-control, more so than when intoxicated on alcohol. Additionally some participants reported that marijuana did not adversely affect memory of the interaction compared to alcohol” (Palamar, Acosta, Ompad, Friedman 2016 pg. 10). This means you can enjoy masturbating or having partnered sex while consuming cannabis and you’re more likely to remember it and feel in control while you’re doing it. I’d say that’s a huge point in the plus column for cannabis!
“Related to partner choice, it was not surprising that marijuana use reportedly led to more post-sex satisfaction than alcohol. Users generally did not feel they experienced memory impairment or poor judgment after using marijuana, but they did feel they commonly experienced this from alcohol” (Palamar, Acosta, Ompad, Friedman 2016 pg. 10). This is important to keep in mind, because while I am a vociferous advocate for the mindful combination of cannabis and sex, I am equally passionate about not combining alcohol intoxication with sex. One cannot legally consent when intoxicated. I would love to see future studies focus entirely on one’s perceived ability to give consent when using cannabis, but this study is a good start.
A quick note on the study — Dr. Lehmiller states in his conclusion, “let me caution that these findings come from a very small study and we should therefore avoid the temptation to generalize them broadly. Also, keep in mind that these findings are based on self-report data, not a tightly controlled experiment. As such, people may not recall precisely how much of each substance was consumed, and they may not even know things like which strain of marijuana they were using…More research is certainly needed.”
This caveat is an important one, and one of the reasons I respect Dr. Lehmiller’s work so much. We shouldn’t look at a study with a sample size this small and use it to make sweeping generalizations. The greatest value in this study, for me, is the very fact that it exists. With any luck this will be one of many studies on the possible effects of cannabis on sexuality.