Ask a professional what the key to a better sex life is and you’ll get myriad answers: Have more open communication with your partner(s); express a willingness to be a giver; focus on satisfaction as much as pleasure; and, of course, be open to trying new things.
Those are all good pieces of advice. And while they can all contribute to better sex and a better sex life, they certainly aren’t the only ways of getting there. In fact, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Almeria, an alternate possibility might be as simple as having a drink or smoking some weed.
“A common reason for drug consumption is in the context of sexual relations,” the study, published in the Journal of Healthcare, declares. “However, the impact of these drugs on sexual function is still uncertain. The evidence is inconsistent, with contradictory reports of both benefits and harms.”
Alcohol, cannabis and MDMA are the three drugs most commonly-used by young people to increase or enhance their sexual experience, in that order, according to the study. While alcohol consumption in particular is associated with “sexual behavior and arousal,” too much alcohol can have negative “potency and sexual capacity” effects, the study notes. And while cannabis shows effects of enhanced desire, improved orgasm and reduced discomfort for women, chronic use in men “mildly modulates semen and hormonal parameters.”
“Despite these controversial implications, both positive and detrimental, the amount of research that has investigated the influence of cannabis and alcohol use on sexual function is still limited, even more with validated surveys,” the abstract reads.
So the team of Spanish researchers, led by Pablo Roman, set out to fill that gap in the literature—to determine if and how cannabis and alcohol use affect the sexual health and function of 18- to 30-year-olds.
We reached out several times to Roman and other authors of “The Influence of Cannabis and Alcohol Use on Sexuality: An Observational Study in Young People (18–30 Years)” but did not receive a response.
For the study, the researchers assessed 185 female subjects and 89 males between 18 and 30 years of age, from January to June of 2020. All 274 subjects were regular users of either alcohol or cannabis, or non-users—and who did not use any other drugs like MDMA. They also screened out subjects who had been diagnosed with conditions such as depression and diabetes, which can negtively affect sexual performance.
The subjects then filled out an ad hoc questionnaire that allowed the researchers to compare the total “score” of the sexual function between cannabis and alcohol consumers and non-consumers.
How does one score sexual function? There are many ways to do it. But for this study the scientists used the Spanish version of the Changes in Sexual Functioning Questionnaire Short-Form—a 14-item questionnaire that assesses desire, arousal and orgasm on a scale of 1-5. Responses are added up for a total sexual function/dysfuncton score (between 14-70). The subject scores in this study were then grouped into cannabis users, alcohol users and abstainers of both, and then compared.
“The findings of this study revealed a higher score in sexual function, as well as arousal and orgasm, in subjects at risk of having cannabis-related problems and risk of addiction associated with alcohol consumption.”
They stipulate that drug use is often associated with risky sexual behavior, like having unprotected sex or contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Nevertheless, their observations indicated that cannabis users, regardless of age and gender, had better sexual performance than non-users, and that alcohol use improved sexual function, arousal and orgasm across the samples.
While research in this area is sparse, Roman and his team from the University of Almeria weren’t the first researchers to make similar observations. Another study, published in Sexual Medicine in 2020, examined the effects of cannabis specifically on the sexual function of females. It found that women who reported more cannabis use showed higher sexual function scores, as well as desire, arousal, orgasm and satisfaction.
A third study, likewise published in Sexual Medicine in 2020, examined the relationship between cannabis use and sexual function in men and found that increased cannabis use was related to increased sexual function, higher sexual satisfaction and a lower prevalence of erectile dysfunction.
The conclusion to draw from all of this is not that we should all use more cannabis and alcohol to have more satisfying and active sex lives (although, that certainly seems to help). The most important interpretation of this research comes at the very end of the study—when the researchers finally speculate on why cannabis and alcohol produce these effects.
“This improvement is usually associated with a reduction in anxiety and shame, which facilitates sexual relationships,” the Almeria study concludes, suggesting in the last sentence: “Sexual education for the younger population must incorporate strategies and education to lessen anxiety and shame during sex encounters.”