Enhancing Sex and Sensuality with Cannabis
The following is an excerpt from the new book The Little Book of Cannabis: How Marijuana Can Improve Your Life by Amanda Siebert, Foreword by Dr. Rav Ivker (Available Oct 17, 2018 from Greystone Books)
From vibrators to Viagra and penis pumps to pleasure oil, humans seem to be obsessed with increasing sexual desire, upping sexual performance, and maximizing sexual pleasure.
If a prudish upbringing has led you to believe that the phenomenon of treating sex in this way is a side effect of pop culture putting too much emphasis on sex and sexuality, I’ve got news for you: the ancient Egyptians used aphrodisiacs, and yes, even sought ways to lengthen their penises. Sex-specific drugs—whether they were taken for the reasons listed above, or to prevent pregnancy and disease—have existed for literally ages. And while the idea of using cannabis in this way may seem strange or even unlikely, history tells us that it wasn’t uncommon.
Historical Use of Cannabis for Sex
While it’s not exactly sex, it’s certainly the result of intercourse: one of the earliest recorded sex-related uses of cannabis was for childbirth. In ancient Egypt, women applied cannabis to the inside of their vaginas to ease the pain of, well, childbirth. There are numerous records of its being used for this throughout history, and while the Egyptians applied extractions or oils, others used cannabis smoke, burning it and then administering it to women in labor.(1) Its use as an aphrodisiac was also common.
Cannabis was also used in conjunction with sex in India in about 700 CE. Its use for both tantric sex and yoga arose out of what researcher Dr. Michael Aldrich calls “an explosive mingling” of different elements of Shaivite Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. “The tradition of drug yoga is an ancient and honorable one in India, developed to its fullest extent in tantric practice,” he writes. “The Tantras transform Hindu sexual practices into a means of meditational yoga. Marijuana fits into sex yoga as well, for in Hindu folk medicine it is the aphrodisiac par excellence.” (2) Cannabis served not as a “disinhibiting agent,” but as an awareness booster that was essential to tantric ceremonies.
It is believed that the Vikings who worshipped the Norse goddess Freya also indulged in cannabis as an aphrodisiac. Freya, considered the goddess of love, was associated with hemp, so at sowing and harvesting times each year, cannabis flowers were consumed and erotic rituals were held in her name. (3)
In his observations of the effects of cannabis, Irish physician William O’Shaughnessy wrote in 1843 that one preparation was “most fascinating in its effects, producing ecstatic happiness, a persuasion of high rank, a sensation of flying, voracious appetite, and intense aphrodisiac desire.” (4)
In more recent history, a 1975 paper by anthropologist Sula Benet shows that cannabis was used in Soviet Russia in the 1930s both as an aphrodisiac and for pain relief. Cannabis was mixed with lamb’s fat to create a mixture called nasha, which was given to brides in the evening of their wedding day to reduce the pain of first intercourse. Candy containing hashish, called guc-kand, was made for boys who were suffering from pain caused by circumcision. Women would sometimes add tobacco to another nasha-like substance and apply it to the inside of their vaginas to make them tighter. Don’t worry, guys, women didn’t get to have all the fun— men often indulged in what they called “happy porridge,” an aphrodisiacal combination of hemp flowers, seeds, and spices.⁵
While cannabis is illegal in Uganda, traditional healers have used it to help men suffering from erectile dysfunction for many years. According to a study published in 2005, cannabis is one of numerous plants used by healers to manage sexual impotence.⁶ It is typically smoked.
The Summer of Love
In my opinion, no discussion of the intersection of cannabis and sex would be complete without at least mentioning the year 1967. The Summer of Love and the years that followed gave birth to a new way of thinking about sex, drugs, and life in general that have come to shape some of our current discourse around both sexual identity and drug use. I simply can’t ignore the fact that cannabis had a massive presence at the Be-Ins, Smoke-Ins, festivals, and “beatnik gatherings” where the youths of yesteryear gathered together in the interest of “free love.” (It’s ironic that many of the people who grew up in the sixties are now completely anti-pot. Go figure.)
Using Cannabis to Enhance Sex; The research says…
It’s not hard to find historical and anecdotal cases of cannabis being used not just to facilitate sex, but also to make it more enjoyable…. While scientists have certainly tried to link cannabis use to things like sexual dysfunction and “high-risk” behavior or promiscuity, there is also evidence to show that cannabis can not only increase sexual pleasure and satisfaction, it may also increase desire.
In the 1970s and particularly in the 1980s, researchers took a keen interest in cannabis and sex. An early study by Dr. Wayne C. Koff in 1974 found that cannabis led to increased sexual motivation. (7) Another, by Ronald A. Weller and James A. Halikas and published in The Journal of Sex Research in 1984, attempted to determine the perceived effects of cannabis on sexual behavior and practices by interviewing groups of cannabis users and nonusers. It found that over two-thirds of subjects reported increased sexual pleasure and satisfaction when using cannabis, while about half reported feeling increased sexual desire for a familiar sexual partner. About half told the researchers conducting the study that they viewed cannabis as an aphrodisiac and felt enhanced senses of touch and taste, while about 20 percent of the subjects said they used cannabis before sex regularly. (8)
After that, research on the topic seemed to fall off for about twenty years. Similar survey-type studies were conducted by two different groups of Canadian researchers in 2003 and 2008, with both coming to similar conclusions as the U.S. survey conducted in 1984, but little research has looked at the more specific implications of exactly how cannabinoids serve us in the bedroom. In fact, one study conducted in 2015 actually looked into whether or not cannabis use decreased men’s sperm count. By comparing samples from users and nonusers, the study found that men who smoked cannabis regularly had 29 percent lower sperm count than their counterparts who abstained. When combined with other recreational drug use, sperm count was lowered even further, by 55 percent. (9)
The research landscape changed with the publication of a study in the journal Current Sexual Health Reports in 2017. Researcher Dr. Richard Balon of Wayne State University found that cannabis actually has a bidirectional effect on sexual functioning: at low doses, it may promote sexual arousal and enhance functioning, but at higher doses, not only will sex be less enjoyable, but regular use may lead to negative effects, including lack of interest, erectile dysfunction, and inhibited orgasm (10).
Do cannabis users have more sex?
Another recent study asked an entirely different question: Do cannabis users have more sex than nonusers? Based on what we’ve already learned about sex and cannabis in this chapter, the results probably won’t surprise you. By analyzing nine years of data from nearly fifty thousand adults who responded to the annual National Survey of Family Growth, researchers found that across all demographics, women who used cannabis either monthly, weekly, or daily had significantly higher sexual frequency than those who did not use cannabis. Men who consumed cannabis either weekly or daily had similar results. While the study stated that consumption did not appear to impair sexual function, it also called for further research on the relationship between sex and cannabis. (11)
Given the nature of the research on this topic and the consensus among cannabis users that the plant is indeed a great tool for better sex, speaking with a sex educator rather than an academic seemed appropriate.
CannaSexual education with Ashley Manta
An author, workshop facilitator, and pleasure and communications coach, Ashley Manta is the cannabis industry’s answer to Dr. Ruth Westheimer. The California native coined (and federally trademarked) the term “CannaSexual,” and while she says some confuse it with a sexual orientation, it’s meant to describe anyone who mindfully and deliberately combines sex and cannabis.
“It’s really meant to be a word that’s not only a brand but a philosophy, an approach, a mind-set,” she tells me by phone. The inclusive, sex-positive workshops she teaches cover topics like “All Hands on Bits! Hand Sex for All Bodies,” “Sexy Supplies: An Intro to Toys, Lube, and Accessories,” and of course, “Light My Fire: How Cannabis Can Enhance Pleasure.”
“They come from a place of ‘Let’s throw out everything you think you know about cannabis, or how to use cannabis, or even how to have sex,’” she says. “I like to give [attendees] a new paradigm to work with that focuses on pleasure, consent, embodiment, presence, and mindfulness.”
In her mind, the benefits of combining sex and cannabis are infinite, and can manifest in many different ways. People who deal with chronic pain, she says, might struggle with intimacy because their pain distracts them from being present with their partner. Cannabis can not only help quiet the pain, but also help keep them in the right state of mind. The same could go for people who struggle with stress and anxiety.
“Regardless of what kind of equipment you’re working with, whether you have a vulva or a penis, we all struggle with similar things when it comes to arousal and body confidence,” she says. “Like the things that we believe about the way that our bodies are supposed to interact with each other, or what sex is supposed to look like. Cannabis helps you break out of that mold.”
cannabis for Pain relief and sensory perception
Opening up about her own reason for using cannabis in the bedroom, Manta says her first foray into using cannabis for sex was with an infused topical. “The reason I stumbled onto cannabis for sex was because I have pain with penetration from a history of sexual trauma,” she says. “Using cannabis topically was the first time I was ever able to have penetrative sex without pain.” Pain with penetrative sex is common among people with vulvas, she says, for a variety of reasons.
Menopause is another life event that Manta says can be positively affected by cannabis use. “Cisgender women specifically might suffer from vaginal dryness, atrophy, and pain, just because of the way the tissue changes,” she says, noting that some women have also used cannabis as a supplement to hormone replacement therapy to help deal with hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. Women with endometriosis could also benefit from cannabis use, she says.
“But cannabis can also be used as an enhancer, not just addressing the things that are getting in the way of connection and pleasure,” she says, “but also enhancing pleasurable sensations and sensory perception, because THC and CBD, to a lesser extent, do help to bring your body online.”
1. Ethan B. Russo, Melanie Dreher, and Mary Lynn Mathre, Women and Cannabis: Medicine, Science, and Sociology (New York: The Haworth Herbal Press, 2002), 75.
2. Michael R. Aldrich, “Tantric Cannabis Use in India,” Journal of Psychedelic Drugs 9, no. 3 (1977): 227-233, researchgate.net/publication/233211369_Tantric_Cannabis_Use_in_India
3. Robert C. Clarke and Mark D. Merlin, Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 260.
4. William B. O’Shaughnessy, quoted by E.W. Berridge, “Cannabis Indica,” The Homeopathic World: A Popular Journal of Medical, Social, and Sanitary Science 14 (January 1, 1879): 119-124.
5. Sula Benet, “Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp,” in Cannabis and Culture, ed. Vera Rubin (The Hague: Mouton, 1975), 39-49.
6. Maud Kamatenesi-Mugisha and Hannington Oryem-Origa, “Traditional Herbal Remedies Used in the Management of Sexual Impotence and Erectile Dysfunction in Western Uganda,” African Health Sciences 5, no. 1 (2005): 40-49, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1831906
7. Wayne C. Koff, “Marijuana and Sexual Activity,” Journal of Sex Research 10, no. 3 (1974): 194-204, researchgate.net/publication/18697057_Marijuana_and_sexual_activity
8. Ronald A. Weller and James A. Halikas, “Marijuana Use and Sexual Behavior,” Journal of Sex Research 20, no. 2 (May 1984): 186-193, JSTOR. org/stable/3812350?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
9. Tina Djernis Gundersen et al., “Association between Use of Marijuana and Male Reproductive Hormones and Semen Quality: A Study among 1,215 Healthy Young Men,” American Journal of Epidemiology 182, no. 6 (September 2015): 473-381, academic.oup.com/aje/article/182/6/473/82600
10. Richard Balon, “Cannabis and Sexuality,” Current Sexual Health Reports 9, no. 3 (September 2017): 99-103, deepdyve.com/lp/springer-journals/cannabis-and-sexuality-XjlD20ln5j
11. Andrew J. Sun and Michael L. Eisenberg, “Association between Marijuana Use and Sexual Frequency in the United States: A Population-Based Study,” Journal of Sexual Medicine 14, no. 11 (2017): 1342-1347, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29110804