In the first study of its kind, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown that people who use pot have sex about 20 percent more often than those who do not. It’s an eye-opening finding, but a classic case where correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation.
A positive association between the frequency of sex and marijuana use has been reported in the latest edition of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. To get to this conclusion, the Stanford University researchers who wrote the study, Andrew Sun and Michael L. Eisenberg, surveyed more than 50,000 Americans between the ages of 25 and 45. Concerns that pot use might somehow be curbing our sexual desire and performance are likely overstated, argue the researchers, who at the same time caution that, “It doesn’t say if you smoke more marijuana, you’ll have more sex.” Indeed, correlation is not causation, and this study doesn’t show that pot is responsible for the apparent licentiousness
of marijuana users.
This is a timely study given the current popularity of the drug and its decriminalization in certain jurisdictions. The National Institute on Drug Abuse claims that 20 million adult Americans use pot, and the number is rising. At this stage, however, its role in sex is a bit vague, with evidence pointing in both directions. Some research suggests that heavy use results in erectile dysfunction and reduced sperm counts, while other research suggests marijuana stimulates activity in brain regions responsible for sexual arousal and activity. This new study is an attempt to learn a bit more about the potential connections between sex and pot.
Before we get into the nuts-and-bolts of this study and its conclusions, it’s important to understand where the data came from. The researchers pulled data from the CDC’s National Survey of Family Growth. This survey asks Americans about their family structures, sexual practices, child rearing, and drug habits. On those last two points, Americans were specifically asked how many times they had sex with a member of the opposite sex in the past four weeks, and how much pot they smoked/ingested over the past year. The survey works in four-year cycles and offers data from 2002 to 2015.
So right off the bat we’ve got a couple of problems. First of all, the researchers pulled data from a heteronormative survey, which means their study is also heteronormative. It’s possible (and probable) that people not included in the study have similar tendencies, but this survey (unfortunately) can’t tell us that. Secondly, the survey relied on self-reported data, which can be notoriously unreliable. For example, pot users may think they’re having more sex than they’re actually having or reporting, or that they’re smoking less (or more) than what they’re reporting.
Those concerns notwithstanding, the researchers found some rather compelling associations. In the analysis, 14.5 percent of women and 23.5 percent of men reported having used marijuana to varying degrees over the past year. When comparing these pot users to abstainers, the researchers uncovered a positive correlation between the frequency of marijuana use and the frequency of sexual intercourse. In fact, the more pot that a person uses, the more sex they claimed to have (i.e. a dose-dependent relationship appears to exist between pot and sexual frequency).
“Frequent marijuana use doesn’t seem to impair sexual motivation or performance,” said Eisenberg. “If anything, it’s associated with increased coital frequency.” (Hmmm, suddenly wondering if a negative correlation exists between people who use the term “increased coital frequency.”)
Sun and Eisenberg’s claim that marijuana doesn’t impair sexual performance is actually without warrant—they can’t know that from the data. They’re equating sexual frequency with performance, which isn’t fair. For all we know, the sex sucked when users were high—particularly if they were really high.
“The overall trend we saw applied to people of both sexes and all races, ages, education levels, income groups and religions, every health status, whether they were married or single and whether or not they had kids,” added Eisenberg.
Importantly, this trend also held true for respondents who used other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine. Sun and Eisenberg interpret this to meaning that the increased sex isn’t simply a sign that these folks are less-inhibited (i.e. that pot users are more open to trying things out, like increased sex and hard drugs). That may very well be the case, but more research should be done to be absolutely sure (e.g. a study on personality types as it relates to drug use, sexual proclivities, etc.).
Diving deeper into the study, women who didn’t use pot in the past year had sex, on average, six times during the past four weeks, while women who smoked pot daily had sex 7.1 times during the same period. For men, it was 5.6 for nonusers, and 6.9 for daily users. That means pot users are having about 20 percent more sex than abstainers. Which, whoa.
This study would seem to suggest that marijuana is a good way to foster sexual activity among couples who are struggling in this area; but as noted, pot potentially produces undesirable physiological effects that may be counterproductive (i.e. erectile issues, low sperm count, poor performance, etc.). And as noted, this study doesn’t actually prove that pot is the “active ingredient” that increases sexual desire (but the researchers say the results “hint at it”). Lastly, this study also doesn’t mean that if you don’t smoke pot that your sex life is somehow diminished or compromised. Definitely not.
Sun and Eisenberg say this is the first study to examine the relationship between marijuana use and frequency of sexual intercourse among Americans. That means we still have lots to learn about the relationship between the two, and that we shouldn’t get too excited (or upset) about what is, admittedly, very preliminary research in this area.