Sex Ed

Alcohol vs. Marijuana: Which One is a Better Aphrodisiac?

September 14, 2016 by Justin Lehmiller

Alcohol and marijuana are among the most popular drugs people use for sexual enhancement. But when it comes to their effects, how similar or different are they? A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior offers some insight.

In this study, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 24 young adults in New York City and asked them to compare past experiences using these substances during sex. Obviously, this is a very small sample and we should be very cautious when it comes to generalizing the results; however, the findings are certainly still informative. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the highlights:

  • Many participants said they felt sexier or more attractive after using these substances; however, this effect was more commonly associated with alcohol than it was with marijuana.
  • Participants said that both substances affected their choice of sexual partner, but they were more likely to say that alcohol had a negative effect on partner selection. Alcohol use was linked to having sex with strangers one wouldn’t normally go for due to a relaxing of their normal standards (you know, the old “beer goggles” effect). By contrast, marijuana use was linked to having sex with a partner who was already known. This difference in partner selection is probably partially attributable to the fact that people tend to use alcohol and marijuana in different settings (e.g., in a bar/club vs. home).
  • Given these differences in partner selection, it is perhaps not surprising that alcohol use was linked to having more sexual regrets the next morning than marijuana. These regrets were most frequently linked to choice of partner, but sometimes involved the specific sexual acts that occurred (e.g., having sex without a condom).
  • Alcohol was linked to more interference in sexual performance, including erectile difficulties, vaginal dryness, and even falling asleep during sex. Some marijuana users reported negative sexual effects, too, but they tended to be more psychological than physical—we’re talking things like paranoia and anxiety.
  • Both drugs seemed to have dosage effects and were linked to more problems when consumed in larger (versus smaller) quantities.
  • Participants were more likely to say that the physical sensations of sex were enhanced or heightened while on marijuana, but “numbed” while using alcohol.
  • Many people said sex lasts longer when they’re drunk, which is likely due to alcohol’s desensitizing effects on the body. Some people thought this was a good thing, whereas others felt it was bad. Marijuana use was linked to feeling that sex lasts longer, even though if it didn’t actually last longer.
  • Both drugs were linked to inconsistent effects on orgasm. While some felt that marijuana led to more intense orgasms, others had difficulty reaching orgasm because they were too mentally distracted. Likewise, while some felt that alcohol delayed or inhibited orgasm, others said that it allowed them to orgasm more quickly or frequently.
  • Marijuana was more commonly described as leading to tender and slow sexual experiences, whereas alcohol was linked to more aggressive and intense sex. However, both drugs were linked to trying new things that one might not otherwise do.

Again, 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 (some strains are more relaxing, while others are more stimulating).

More research is certainly needed, but these results suggest that alcohol and marijuana appear to have quite different sexual effects. However, understanding the effects of these drugs is a complex matter because both are subject to dosage effects and they don’t appear to affect everyone the same way.

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To learn more about this research, see: Palamar, J. J., Acosta, P., Ompad, D. C., & Friedman, S. R. (2016). A Qualitative Investigation Comparing Psychosocial and Physical Sexual Experiences Related to Alcohol and Marijuana Use among Adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Image Source: 123RF/Joshua Resnick

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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