Having sex and getting intoxicated are like the peanut butter and chocolate of human activities, each delicious on its own and reckless when combined. But just as all sex is not equal, neither are all substances, especially America’s favorite drugs of abuse — booze and weed. And according to a new, small, and in-depth study coming out of New York University, marijuana is a way healthier drug of choice — leading to “magnified” orgasms and less regret.
A research team lead by NYU public-health researcher Joseph J. Palamar talked with 24 New Yorkers culled from Craigslist that were between the ages of 18 and 35, spoke English, and had both had sex while high and while not high. For the study, sex was defined as “any sexual activity (involving some form of genital contact) with another individual that can result in orgasm in either individual.” Research assistants did in-depth interviews following a semi-structured interview, with lots of questions focusing on the differences between marijuana and alcohol-related sexual experiences. Respondents talked lots about how alcohol increased confidence and dropped inhibitions, while marijuana increased sensitivity and spacing out. In the sexual experiences themselves, alcohol lead to desensitization and marijuana lead to increased sensation.
The respondents’ answers were, to say the least, colorful:
• When there’s drinking involved, guys seem to get more belligerent and crazy, and get this weird aggressive energy … Maybe I’m looking for it (sex) more if I were drunk, whereas when I’m high, I’m happy doing other things. Sex is great. Watching a movie is great. Resting’s great. But when I’m drunk, fucking would be great. (Female, White, 31)
• Oh, so much regret for alcohol. Sometimes I hook up with girls I wouldn’t normally have while sober. I feel like weed only enhances the attraction and the connection, but with alcohol, there’s lots of regret. Lots of embarrassment. (Male, Black, 20)
• I want to cook the person something to eat (after sex) when I’m high. When I’m drunk, it’s like,‘‘I’m out of here.’’ Or get away from me. (Male,White, 33)
The researchers note that alcohol is much more outwardly social than marijuana, at least under current laws. People congregate in bars, make toasts, and take shots when alcohol is involved (which avails them to possible partners), while marijuana use happens more privately. Indeed, when people had new sexual partners while high, it was often someone they already knew. But, as Palamar told Science of Us via email, this might be changing. “As marijuana becomes more normalized, with use occurring in more open environments, I would imagine more users starting to wake up in bed with strangers,” he writes. “However, the wariness associated with marijuana use will likely still prevent the likelihood of risky hookups which are more common with alcohol.” That speaks to the double sexual trouble of boozing: With alcohol, according to this study, you’re more likely to meet strangers and have sex with people you aren’t attracted to, leading to walks of shame across the nation. Conversely, Palamar says that his team’s findings “suggest hookups with strangers occur less often on marijuana — possibly because while high they’re more able to maintain their guard as well as standards.”
The small sample size, he says, does limit how much can be generalized from the study. More research needs to be done with smaller doses, less-frequent users, and nonheterosexual populations. Still, he does think that the themes regarding alcohol and marijuana would carry over to a larger sample (as other studies have suggested) — booze predicts confidence, risk, and “freaky” sex, while weed predicts sensuality and snoozing, living up, at least partially, to its “natural Viagra” reputation. If only they covered all this in sex ed.