In a recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers compared the effects that alcohol and marijuana have on sexual encounters, as self-reported by study participants. Some of the “findings” are head-smackingly obvious, gussied up in fancy words.
For example, can you believe that “alcohol was commonly associated with social outgoingness,” or that its “use facilitated connections with potential sexual partners”?
Some of the results, though, are interesting—like the finding that drunk sex is more likely than high sex to be associated with post-coital regret.
The researchers, affiliated with NYU’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), say that both male and female participants often reported positive sexual effects of the two substances. However, in addition to post-sex regret, there were other negative effects reported too. Marijuana use was linked to vaginal dryness among women, while alcohol use was linked to impotence in men.
Part of the reason alcohol may lead to more regrets than marijuana, researchers speculated, is that subjects—both male and female—were more likely to experience “beer goggles” than “weed goggles.” They felt that their standards for choosing a sexual partner were lowered under the influence of alcohol. In contrast, participants who had smoked marijuana tended to report increased feelings of anxiety or wariness in unfamiliar situations.
“It wasn’t surprising that alcohol use reportedly led to less post-sex satisfaction than marijuana,” said Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, the lead author. “Sexual encounters on marijuana tended to be with someone the individual knew. Sex on alcohol was often with a stranger.”
That seems to be assuming that sex with someone you know is more satisfying than sex with a stranger, which not everyone may agree with. And even though alcohol was more likely than weed to be associated with social outgoingness, marijuana’s continuing illicit status in many places actually facilitated sex in some cases.
“Since smoking marijuana recreationally is illegal in most states and smoking it tends to produce a strong odor,” noted Dr. Palamar, “it usually has to be used in a private setting. Some individuals utilize such private or intimate situations to facilitate sexual encounters.”
It’s important to note the extremely small sample size of this qualitative study—24 adults (12 male and 12 female, all heterosexual and HIV-negative) who reported recent use of marijuana before sex.
But it opens up interesting questions—for example in relation to another new study (splashed across news headlines this week) indicating that young people have less sex than previous generations did at their age. Could there be a link between decreased stigma around marijuana and a decrease in young people’s sexual activity?
Regardless, as marijuana becomes legal, it will be important to examine the way it affects sexual activity and risk.
“Research is needed continue to study sexual effects of recreational drugs to inform prevention to ensure that users and potential users of these drugs are aware of sexual effects associated with use,” said Dr. Palamar. “Our results can inform prevention and harm reduction education especially with regard to marijuana, since people who smoke marijuana generally don’t receive any harm reduction information at all. They’re pretty much just told not to use it.”