Do psychedelics impact our sex lives?
High, drunk, or sober, what’s your favorite way to have sex? asks the comedian Deon Cole during a recent Netflix Is A Joke special. As the crowd advocate for high or drunk, Cole reveals his intentions: if you can’t enjoy sex sober, it’s probably not that good anyway.
Humans have long held a fascination with sex. The Kama Sutra has been transformed into a sex manual in modern wellness and yoga circles even though the text is more concerned with emotional fulfillment and romantic maintenance. Those are certainly aided by good sex, though sex alone is not the ultimate driver of relationships.
Sex predates nervous systems, making it a feature of biological utility, not divine pleasure. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying sex or making it a focus of relationships—or, for the polyamorous, of life in general. It’s simply important to note that the biological function of sex is procreation. Additives are determined by the individual (or couple) involved, leaving it open to widely varied interpretations.
These niche industries are growing as psychedelics see decriminalization and legalization across America. Beyond the clinical uses of psychedelics in mental health treatments, experts promoting sex while on psychedelics are gaining in popularity. Anecdotal evidence of such a connection exists. The question remains: do psychedelics help you have better sex?
Tripping — Together
First off, if you aren’t accustomed to the potentially disorienting nature of psilocybin or LSD, chances are you’re not going to enjoy sex (or much of anything else).
While we might not have much data on how psychedelics affect sex, we do have plenty of evidence that these substances help reduce anxiety and alleviate depression. These are both factors that generally dampen your enthusiasm for sex. For that reason, sex therapist Daniel Sher says psychedelics should theoretically improve sex.
“We know, for example, that psychedelics have been harnessed to treat depression, anxiety, trauma, and relationship difficulties. Therefore, it makes sense that possible synergies between psychedelic and sex therapies exist and represent fruitful avenues for investigation.”
A few factors come into play. Psychedelics reduce the influence of the “me” regions of the brain, tamping down incessant criticisms related to the ego. This could help some people relax and not be so concerned with anxieties known to cripple sex. With reduced insecurities and a heightened sense of physical awareness, psychedelics are a prime candidate for use in sex therapy.
Sexologist and former prostitute, Annie Sprinkle, has long believed an important connection between entheogenic substances and sex exists. She writes that since psychedelics are not addictive, as with many of the drugs she watched friends and clients fall victim to, they are ideal therapeutic aids. She says we’re misguided if we think that psychedelics are aphrodisiacs, however. Rather, their role as tools for personal development leads to better sexual experiences.
“More often the user gains some key information, has a new experience, or sees her/himself from a new perspective, and any of this can greatly inform that person’s sexual life. Just as each sexual experience can potentially teach us something about sex, each drug experience can potentially teach us something about sex.”
The Molecule of Ecstasy
No psychedelic is as well-known for sexual enhancement as MDMA. This substance, though, is related to therapeutic work more than sex toy. MDMA was famously used in couples counseling in the 1970s before being criminalized under the Reagan administration—and has since been secretly used by some psychiatrists, as Michael Pollan details in How to Change Your Mind.
Psychiatrist Julie Holland points to the neurochemical influence that MDMA has on our bodies for its role in sex.
“With MDMA, there is a direct pharmacological effect of increased oxytocin, but there may be crosstalk between the psychedelic receptor, 5HT2A, and the oxytocin receptor, so other psychedelics would have an indirect effect. Oxytocin dampens the fear-based amygdala response, helping us to open up, to trust and bond.”
In order to truly surrender (as Sprinkle phrases it) to the sexual experience, you need to feel safe with your partner. Holland suggests that MDMA helps reduce anxieties and fears concerning other people. She says it opens up avenues of communication, which could then translate into better sexual experiences.
In fact, the psychedelic experience might influence you to not have sex, says psychologist Denise Raye. First off, a high dose can render you physically incapable of performing. While “ecstasy” might seem like an ideal tool for getting it on, activities like dancing, talking, and cuddling often follow the high. Sex typically only happens in once the partners come down.
Don’t Believe (All) the Hype
As with the emergence of any substance—maca has been marketed as a sex enhancement tool for years—psychedelics will be sold by aspirational yoga teachers and wellness gurus as the key to sexual bliss. Chances are some will facilitate incredible workshops, while others are just cashing in on a trend.
The focus of psychedelics should remain on therapeutic efficacy. If psychedelics alleviate depression, anxiety, and existential distress, then we need to follow the research and implement these tools wisely. If your mental health is solid thanks to psychedelic therapy, your sex life will improve. This is a net positive.
We should remain wary of psychedelics as a sexual performance enhancer, however. As with the wildly unregulated supplements market, psychedelics are not cure-alls. The question of psychedelic influence on sex will likely remain anecdotal. If you and your partner are open to exploring these substances (or if you’re working on intimacy with yourself), psychedelics do have a lot to offer. Just beware of the guru selling sex. That rarely works out well.