How Does Cannabis Actually Affect Sex?

Author Article

Amanda K. Behrens

Cannabis (marijuana) has a bit of a mixed reputation when it comes to sex. You may have heard that it’s a traditional herbal aphrodisiac with nearly mythical libido-boosting powers. Or maybe you heard that it can reduce sperm count or contribute to erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. In reality? It’s probably far more complicated than any of those assumptions, which is why we’ve compiled everything we know and don’t know about how cannabis affects sex.

There is one huge caveat, though: Thanks to the system of prohibition that’s dominated drug policy in the U.S. for the past few decades—a system that has had and continues to have a disproportionately large impact on communities of color—there’s simply not a whole lot of research to go on.

Another pretty big caveat: Sexual arousal and functioning is incredibly complicated, so analyzing the sexual effects of any substance is inevitably going to be multilayered. “A lot of the understanding that needs to go into a discussion around cannabis and sexuality has less to do with cannabis and more to do with sexuality,” Jordan Tishler, M.D., medical cannabis expert at InhaleMD in Boston, tells SELF.

When researchers examine sexual enjoyment, they may take different aspects of it into account, including biological, social, and psychological factors that may play a role in attraction, arousal, orgasm, and overall satisfaction, Dr. Tishler says. But even if all of those things are accounted for, good sex means different things to different people—and even different things to the same person, depending on the day. So it’s inherently a little challenging to study, which is a good thing to keep in mind when interpreting these results.

Amanda K. Behrens

Here’s what the limited research tells us about cannabis and sex.

Most of what we know about cannabis and sex comes from self-reported surveys. Knowing that cannabis is purported to help with anxiety and pain, it makes sense that the plant may also enhance sex indirectly for some by affecting those other issues. But research directly linking cannabis to sexual enjoyment is somewhat lacking.

Because cannabis is a schedule I drug in the U.S. (meaning the federal government decided it has a high potential for abuse and low potential for medical benefit), it’s difficult to study in a controlled environment. You can’t exactly give participants weed and measure how their sex habits change, for example. (Or at least most U.S.-based researchers can’t do that because it requires a specific type of drug license to use the actual compounds, which has historically been incredibly difficult to acquire.)

So, instead, researchers have often used self-reported surveys—in which participants are asked about their drug use and their sexual experiences—to get an idea of what’s going on. But a study like this comes with a few drawbacks.

For one thing, it requires relying on people to accurately (and honestly) remember how much and how often they’ve used particular substances, as well as what effect those substances had on their sex lives. Researchers also have no way of corroborating what survey respondents say. Scientists can’t test the drug people have been using to see what it actually is (does it have a high THC content? Is it a concentrate or an edible?) and they have to trust that they and their study subjects share a common frame of reference for and definition of subjective words to describe a highly personal experience, like “enjoyment.”

Surveys also only show us a correlation between two things, like cannabis use and the enjoyment of sex. They can’t assess the mechanism behind that correlation or even necessarily tell us why it exists. There can be all sorts of reasons why these answers were correlated the way they were, from something inherent in a person’s personality to the self-selecting nature of the survey respondents. It could be that people who are eager to take a survey about cannabis use are more likely to have had a positive experience with cannabis, and so they’re disproportionately less likely to report having issues with it.

Plus, many of these studies have historically focused mostly or entirely on the experience of men. For instance, in a study published in 1979 in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, researchers asked a group of 84 grad students (78 percent of whom were male) what they thought the relationship between cannabis and sex would be. Those who had firsthand experience with the topic (39 percent) were asked to answer from that perspective. Although the groups agreed that cannabis increases overall sexual pleasure, only those who were “experienced smokers” also strongly believed that it increased the intensity of an orgasm and that it should be considered an aphrodisiac.

But this study included a small number of participants (and an even smaller number of people who actually had firsthand experience using cannabis for sex), the majority of whom were young and male. So it’s not clear how well their results would translate to the experience of people outside those groups.

In another study, published in 1984 in the Journal of Sex Research, the researchers actually interviewed their (all white, 62 percent male) college student participants rather than handing them a questionnaire. The study found similar results: Most participants reported that cannabis improved some aspect of sex—but they added a few interesting details.

For instance, although 58 percent of men in that study reported that it increased the quality of their orgasms, only 32 percent of women said the same. But men and women agreed in about the same amount that cannabis increased their desire for a familiar partner (50 percent of men and 60 percent of women), increased sexual pleasure and satisfaction (70 percent of men and 76 percent of women), and improved the sensation of touching (59 percent of men and 57 percent of women). Additionally, only 34 percent of men said cannabis increased snuggling, but 56 percent of women said it did.

Again, this study had a small number of participants, most of whom were not women and all of whom were white. That makes it difficult to know how accurately the responses from women here reflect the feelings of women in general.

A more recent study (that received plenty of headlines), published in 2017 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, used data from the large nationally representative National Survey of Family Growth. Rather than asking people anything about how their sex lives interact with their drug use, the researchers here simply correlated participants’ self-reported frequency of cannabis use with the frequency that they reported having sex.

They found that people who reported using cannabis monthly, weekly, or daily also reported slightly more frequent sex than those who never smoked. (Women who used cannabis daily had an average of 7.1 sexual encounters in the previous four weeks compared to 6 for those who never used it.) But these results can’t answer any questions about whether or not cannabis use is correlated with the enjoyment or satisfaction of those sexual experiences.

Although this study did include a large number of participants, the researchers had to work with data that had already been collected, meaning that the original survey wasn’t necessarily designed to answer the questions the researchers here asked. Another study of the same size using questions specifically designed to examine the relationship between cannabis use and sex would, theoretically, give more accurate results, but it still wouldn’t tell us why people answered the way they did.

Not satisfied with the data from previous studies, Becky Lynn, M.D., director of the Center for Sexual Health and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Saint Louis University, tells SELF that she set out to conduct her own survey. “I wanted to know what women really thought,” she says. “Did they think that marijuana was improving their sex life?”

To find out, she worked with other people in her practice to offer a survey asking about cannabis usage with regards to sex—whether or not it had any effect on sex drive, orgasm, lubrication, pain, and the overall sexual experience—to everyone who came through their doors. Some of the more than 30 experts at that center are ob/gyns like Dr. Lynn, but there are also obstetricians, urogynecologists, gynecological oncologists, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialists. Every patient who saw any doctor there was offered the survey, so “it wasn’t only people coming in with sexual problems” who were offered it, Dr. Lynn says.

Ultimately, over 300 women filled it out and the results became the basis of two studies recently presented at the World Meeting on Sexual Medicine and the annual meeting of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health—and just published in Sexual Medicine.

Of 373 respondents, 176 reported ever using cannabis, with about half of them reporting frequent use (anywhere from once a week to several times a day) and half of them reporting infrequent use (anywhere from once a year to a few times a year). And 127 of the 176 cannabis users reported ever using cannabis before sex.

There were a few major findings, like that people who reported ever using cannabis prior to sex were more likely to report having satisfying orgasms than those who did not use cannabis before sex (and this was a statistically significant difference). And those who reported frequent cannabis use (not necessarily before sex) were also significantly more likely to report having satisfying orgasms than people who reported infrequent cannabis use. People who reported using cannabis before sex were also more likely to say that they use cannabis specifically to decrease pain (though this wasn’t a statistically significant difference).

This study does have many of the same limitations as those that came before it (such as a small sample size and a possible self-selection bias), but it’s unique in that it primarily focuses on the experience of women. However, like many of the other studies on this topic, the participants were primarily white and heterosexual.

Amanda K. Behrens

This is how cannabis could theoretically impact sex.

In case you didn’t know, your body makes its own natural version of cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), and there is a significant amount of receptors for those compounds “in areas of the brain that deal with sexual function,” Dr. Lynn says, such as the amygdala and hypothalamus. Recent research suggests that 2-AG, an endocannabinoid, is released in humans after orgasm, suggesting that these compounds may be involved in normal sexual processes.

But what happens when you add cannabis to the mix? We do have some answers: Cannabis is a vasodilator (meaning it opens blood vessels and increases blood flow), Dr. Tishler explains. It has direct effects on the cannabinoid receptors in the skin and nerve pathways that are involved in perceiving pain. It can also affect some higher order functions, including memory and feelings of fear and anxiety.

And it’s easy to see how all of those effects could contribute to better sex for some people, but we still don’t have a full, conclusive understanding of what cannabis is doing physiologically in the context of sex. “There are just theories on why this works,” Dr. Lynn says. “There’s really no definitive answer.”

Indeed, there are some studies in humans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that show those sex-related areas are activated even more with the addition of cannabis, Dr. Tishler says. But, again, these studies have their drawbacks—they’re not measuring arousal or libido directly.

What we know about cannabis in this context comes entirely from animal studies, she explains, which can be done by altering the way endocannabinoids and their receptors work (something that can’t easily be done in humans). “Animal research suggests that stimulating the CB1 receptor delays ejaculation, so reports about the time of the act in humans could be true (and not just a result of impaired time perception),” Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University at Albany, SUNY, tells SELF, which may contribute to the increased level of enjoyment the human participants reported in the surveys we mentioned previously.

In some cases though, delayed ejaculation may become problematic. For example, in a 2010 survey of 8,656 Australian adults published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, men who used cannabis daily were more likely to report reaching orgasm too slowly or not at all compared to those who never used. But that study also found that cannabis use was associated with premature ejaculation. As a reminder, this is a self-reported study, so these findings are based on men assessing their own sexual performance, not some sort of objective measure of what happened.

There is also some evidence in humans to suggest that frequent use of cannabis can cause undesirable effects. For instance, among chronic, heavy cannabis users, the drug can negatively affect sperm production, Dr. Earleywine says. In a studypublished in 2015 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers looked at the semen quality of about 1,200 Danish men between the ages of 18 and 28. Nearly half of that sample (45 percent) reported using cannabis within the previous three months. Their results showed that those who used cannabis frequently—more than once a week—had a 28 percent reduction in sperm concentration and a 29 percent lower sperm count compared to those who used once a week or less.

Interestingly, a study published this month in Human Reproduction did not find the same results. Instead, in a longitudinal survey of 662 men who provided semen samples between 2000 and 2017, those who reported ever using cannabis had significantly higher sperm count than those who had never smoked. The researchers suspect that there may be some reproductive benefits to moderate cannabis use but that “this relation reverses at higher doses, resulting in adverse effects,” which could explain their contradictory findings.

Ultimately, though, there’s nothing definitively proving that cannabis enhances sex or that it could contribute to or be used to treat specific sexual dysfunctions (such as premature ejaculation). But, if you’re in a position to try it, our experts do have some words of wisdom.

Amanda K. Behrens

Here’s what to know before you mix cannabis and sex.

Cannabis is a psychoactive drug and different people react differently to it. So, especially if this is your first time using the substance, it’s important to start low, go slow, and take some precautions to make sure you have the most enjoyable and safe experience possible.

As a reminder, cannabis is legal for medical use in 33 states plus the District of Columbia, and it’s legal for adult (recreational) use in 10 states plus D.C. But it remains illegal at the federal level, so there are some obvious legal risks inherent in using cannabis for any reason in the U.S. It’s also important to remember the age restrictions within those states.

Dr. Tishler suggests trying cannabis on your own before incorporating a partner. “What I tell everybody is that the first time you want to think about using cannabis for sex, that should be a masturbation event,” he says. That way, you’ll know how you react to cannabis and how it affects your level of arousal and your orgasm before bringing in a partner and all of their variables.

But Dr. Lynn says there may be some benefits to trying it the first time with a trusted partner “in case you freak out,” she says. (Although some people find that cannabis can sometimes relieve anxiety, in other cases it can increase anxiety and feelings of paranoia. So, if that happens or you’re nervous about it happening, having a buddy could be helpful to calm you down.) Either way, know that you can say no to sex at any time—whether or not you’re using cannabis with another person specifically to enhance sex. The same rules of consent apply.

Speaking of consent, when you are ready to use cannabis to enhance a sexual experience with someone else, make your boundaries known and seek affirmative consent for anything you do. Our understanding of giving consent while using cannabis is still developing, Dr. Tishler says, but it’s crucial that you and your partner have a discussion ahead of time—before you get stoned—about what is and is not OK for you. Of course, consent is important whether or not you’re using cannabis, Dr. Lynn says, but this adds yet another layer to the conversation, and everyone needs to be on the same page.

It’s also important to differentiate between whether you want to use cannabis to enhance your sexual experience or to help manage a diagnosable sexual dysfunction, a factor that research hasn’t been able to tease out yet. If you are experiencing symptoms of sexual dysfunction or pain during sex, check in with your doctor or a sex therapist to talk about that.

And know that, as with all drugs, there is a potential for some unpleasant side effects with cannabis. We know that cannabis (especially when smoked) can affect the lungs and exacerbate conditions like asthma. It can also increase the heart rate and cause anxiety in some cases.

Amanda K. Behrens

Despite the lack of research, there are a ton of sex-related cannabis products.

In case you’re curious. As we’ve discussed, the research surrounding cannabis and sex leaves a lot to be desired. So your mileage will undoubtedly vary with any product claiming to help you with a sexual issue or to enhance the experience of sex. And the good ol’ placebo effect may dictate a good amount of what happens.

Dr. Tishler says he recommends going with vaping cannabis over using an edible or topical product, because it’s easier to get the dose you want at the time you actually want it when it’s inhaled. (And we’ve already covered the benefits of vaping over smoking cannabis here.)

Below are a just a few of the cannabis products out there purported to enhance sex. We chose them because they all incorporate both THC and CBD (there really isn’t any research looking at CBD-only products for sex, Dr. Tishler says), because they come highly rated, and because they simply look like fun.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

1

Dosist Arouse Pen

Dosist pens have gained a reputation for delivering consistent doses of cannabinoid and terpene blends. This one, Arouse, has a 10:1 ratio of THC to CBD and is marketed to help stimulate feelings of arousal but also relaxation, which could be perfect to get you in the mood. Another formula, Passion, comes with slightly more THC than the Arouse blend and is marketed to stimulate euphoria and your overall feelings of sensuality, which may be more useful during sex rather than before.

Buy it: Find it at a dispensary here.

2

Foria Pleasure

Often referred to as “weed lube,” this product from Foria contains coconut oil and THC and is designed to be used topically to “enhance tactile sensations while decreasing tension, discomfort and dryness.” Based on tons of testimonials, Foria says that Pleasure users report more intense orgasms with the product. One important note: This product is not compatible with latex, so if you normally use latex condoms, you’ll need to grab a different variety.

Buy it: Find it at a dispensary here.

3

Papa & Barkley Body Releaf Oil

The company may be better known for its pain-relieving balms, but this topical cannabis-infused coconut oil claims to soothe and relax you all over, meaning it could be the perfect ingredient in a sensual massage. According to the company, it’s best to massage it into the skin for about 20 to 30 seconds to feel the effects. It should begin working within 15 minutes and last for up to three hours.

Buy it: Find it at a dispensary here.

4

Canndescent Connect

Canndescent cannabis is available in five different varieties, each claiming to deliver a specific effect. The company says you’ll want to reach for Connect when you want to “laugh, go out with friends, or get intimate.” Connect is available as flower, in a prerolled joint, and now in a vape cartridge.

But it: Find it at a dispensary here.

5

1906 High Love Chocolate

Although it can be difficult to predict how and when edibles will take effect, these relatively low-dose ones—infused with Blue Dream cannabis—come with great reviews and undeniably Instagram-friendly packaging.

Buy it: Find it at a dispensary here.

Sex, Actually

Author Article

For more than four decades, I have been a practicing psychologist, marriagecounselor, and sex therapist. During that time, I have heard literally hundreds of patient’s recounting of their sexual experiences and how they felt about themselves as they participated.

As people enter into sexual encounters, they are influenced by a host of internal expectations and past experiences. Those memories and prior events affect how they feel about themselves, their partners, and what expectations/fears/needs they anticipate as they enter a new partnership.

Most people are reluctant to share some of their innermost thoughts about sex with their partners, even when they have formed long-term relationships. They tell me that they fear that knowledge might turn their partners off or render themselves too vulnerable to criticism.

Yet, when I’ve been able to open up these sensitive subjects with my couples, they have unanimously ended up closer and more trusting of each other. They are not only grateful for the opportunity to understand more deeply, but often become more successful as sexual partners.

I’ve learned so much from their willingness to share these vulnerable and fragile experiences with me. It’s given me the opportunity to categorize and choose the following fifteen areas of influence that I believe have the most significant effects on a person’s sense of him or herself as a sexual partner.

My hope is that, after reading this article, you will feel more open to sharing yourself more completely in your current and future sexual experiences.

Number One – Unequal Appetites

In most cases, males have a greater appetite for sexual arousal and orgasmthan women do. That can make them less interested in a long courtship process. When sex is a mutually desired, instant attraction and not part of an emotional relationship, the difference in timing and frequency may not be a problem.

As a relationship matures, however, the difference in appetites can become more of an issue. The old adage, “women need thirty-six hours to warm up, and men wake up with a hard-on” is often truer than not. When partners have been together for a while, life demands can create diversions and many women end up participating in sex without sufficient arousal. If that continues over time, many women end up not looking forward to sex as they once did.

Partners may also have different feelings of how important sex is in the totality of their relationship. For some, it is central to their feelings of security and compatibility. For others, it is pleasurable but more peripheral or sometimes even dispensable.

Number Two – Power Differentials

Is there a regularly more dominant and more submissive partner in the sexual encounter? In some relationships, those roles are interchangeable but its more likely to be a stable interaction in most relationships.

The difference in initiation, control, timing demand, and sexually preferred behaviors gives the partner who is designated dominant the power to coordinate and direct the sexual encounter.

In cases where that power difference is agreed upon and mutually shared, the sexual encounter may be successful for both partners. If, on the other hand, coercion and punishment are involved in the maintenance of dominance and there is an abuse of power and domination, the victimized partner’s fear will often prohibit sexual arousal to occur.

Number Three – Prior Trauma

Whether in childhood or through a lifetime, either partner has been subjected to sexually traumatic experiences, he or she will approach a sexual encounter as though those tragedies might recur. Many even unconsciously are attracted to a similar experience because of its sense of familiarity, as well as not knowing that there could be better.

Many people are reluctant to talk with their current partners about prior sexual trauma. Without that knowledge, those partners may unknowingly repeat certain phrases or behaviors that trigger memories of those prior tragedies. Or, a trauma victim may actually unwittingly accept them as part of their “due,” not knowing how to ask for help for fear of humiliation or rejection.

Sexual trauma is much more prevalent than most people realize. The extent and duration of those experiences always affect a sexual encounter when triggered or even before one begins. The previously traumatized person may go in and out of arousal, pull back at the moment of orgasm, become angry during the process, disconnect quickly when the sexual experience is over, oscillate between enjoyment and fear, or try to get the sexual encounter over as quickly as possible.

Many sexual insecurities, anxieties, reluctances, needs for control, or even aggressions are actually symptoms of prior trauma, whether consciously or unconsciously experienced.

Number Four – Taboos

Early teachings affect everyone, but especially so when the discussion of a subject is avoided or thought of as immoral, dirty, or unacceptable. Children incorporate those lessons and then have to somehow integrate them with their own natural desires as they mature.

When there is a large difference between what a child innately feels and what he or she is told not to allow, a sexual taboo can drive that person, as an adult, to act out those repressed desires in an exaggerated manner, or urgently suppress their presence when they emerge. They may resort to inward fantasy while outwardly restricted in their capability to behave as they desire.

There are also societal taboos against certain behaviors. Most people live within them because they don’t want to pay the price of being outcasted in some way, while others are attracted to those behaviors simply because they are frowned upon and try secretly to have it both ways.

Most probably the most indulged in, yet still somewhat condemned, is the regular use of pornography. A very large percentage of men and a significant percentage of women watch pornography on a regular basis. For many, it is not only a ready release and an opportunity to indulge in taboo fantasies, but can also augment a sexual relationship by education and an increase in acceptable behaviors.

What is crucial in a relationship is that the involvement in pornography does not substitute for partner sex in a way that dismisses the other partner, and is willingly shared if the other partner is interested.

Number Five – Physical Plumbing

Men’s outer genitalia make them much more susceptible to stimulation. In times of arousal, they cannot hide the outward evidence. When they are in fear of erectile dysfunction, they may avoid sexual interaction even when they

have desire. That cycle of anticipated dysfunction and avoidance can lead to premature ejaculation, or even inability to ejaculate when they do connect.

Women who are interacting with male partners, can choose to interact sexually without those obvious external signs. Many women have told me that they often don’t share their level of arousal with their male partners if they are not able to match their partner’s excitement, concerned that they will distress the or turn them off.

The way women are touched or aroused can be very different for women than it is for men. Heteroxexual women more often tell me that they feel invaded if men reach for their erogenous zones before they are more generally aroused both physically and emotionally. As a contrast, heterosexual men often share with me that they feel most accurately responded to sexually if their partners reach for their genitals early in the sexual connection.

People who have had same-sex partners, or are primarily involved with those of the same sex, are more likely to intuitively understand those differences. Sharing the same anatomy makes it easier to identify and accordingly respond.

Number Six – Senses

Touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste are highly variable from one person to another. Chemistry is often a combination of super-compatibility in all of those areas, even if a relationship fails miserably in others.

How, when, and where a person wants to be touched, what olfactory experience is preferable, visual attraction, how and which phrases are emitted, and how a person tastes to another as they mix fluids, are central to a sexual relationship’s success.

The basic human emotions of fear, anger, joy, surprise, sadness, or disgust interact and are expressed through the senses as well. They all contribute in concert as to how one person approaches, interacts, and feels about another.

Number Seven – Sexual or Sexy

What may be sexy to one person can differ highly from what may be to another, and sexual attractions do not always mean sexual satisfaction in the long run, or compatibility with other dimensions of a relationship.

Sexy, as most people describe it, is comprised of confidence, independence, charm, welcome, mischief, teasing, playfulness, hot, but not needy. Sexual simply means a high sex-drive and can be perceived by a willing partner as a plus, but by one who is not turned on, as onerous.

Of all of the sexual experiences, sexiness is in the eye of the beholder. And it has its place. Those in relationships may, at one time, love that their partners are seen as sexy by others but can also feel threatened by the same behaviors in other situations.

Number Eight – Masturbation versus Partner Sex

Most people begin their sexual experience privately. Drawing from observing others at home, in the media, or hearing from others, they form their masturbatory fantasies that help them achieve self-exploration and orgasm.

Those fantasies remain with most people, in some form, for their entire lifetimes. They also, during auto-arousal, know their own rhythms, timing, and touch preferences. They don’t have to worry about how their behavior is affecting another or be concerned about their own performance or reputation.

When it is time for a person to change that comfortable self-experience to that of being with another, it is often hard to integrate the two. In a new relationship, filled with intensity and lust, those differences do not emerge. Most new partners, caught up in the frenzy of new passion, go effortlessly between their own internal experience and living in that of their partners, without thinking or experiencing how that is happening.

The ability to stay in the present and connect with another during love-making can only happen when fantasies and reality merge and the partners are open to being with one another in real time. If there is performance anxiety or they cannot share when they temporarily disconnect and retreat into their own world, they can end up simply mutually using the other partner to fulfill what is inside.

Those who, by choice or by situation, masturbate much more than they copulate, may have more difficulty switching over. The tendency to stay in old fantasies that work when alone is a powerful pull that can interfere with interpersonal intimacy.

Number Nine – Romantic Sex

Romantic sex is basically a criss-cross of parent/child nurturing combined with sexual passion. People don’t call their friends “baby” or tenderly embrace adults the way they do children.

People newly in the throes of romantic love have only eyes for each other, openly embrace in situations where they would normally be more discreet, and put most all other priorities on a back burner. They treasure one another as parts of themselves and anticipate each desire or request with eagerness to comply.

In the initial weeks of romantic love, any potential red flags or past losses are ignored or forgotten and sexual discrepancies disappear.

As the partners simultaneously or sequentially discovers that the perfect parent they thought they had morphs into reality, they feel “abandoned,” “rejected,” “disillusioned,” or “discarded.” The truth is that they were never only who they appeared to be, but both partners wanted to leave out what did not fit in their mutual illusion.

Some intimate partners have been lucky enough to have created other dimensions of compatibility and understanding that hold the relationship together as the parent/child interaction fades, and still treasure those feelings of unconditional love enough to recreate them from time to time. Sadly, most romantic relationships cannot navigate that process.

Number Ten – Strangers versus Known Partners

New, forbidden, or unknown strangers can carry a mystique of their own. One-night stands can be thrilling because of the uncertainty that, when not triggering insecurity, is often deeply freeing. Being unknown and anonymous can release prior restrictions and allow fantasies to emerge. There was a popular web site many years ago that required and encouraged those entering it to pose as an imposter to participate. People could then become part of an imaginary world where they could pretend to be anyone they wanted to be.

When it is not required to be known, to have a history, or to be expected to be a certain way, many people can allow themselves to act out their fantasies because of the limited exposure and privacy those interactions allow.

Of course, there are risks involved in having sex with a total stranger. But, when the tryst is thrilling and there are no insufferable losses, they are well worth it for some people at that particular time in their lives.

Number Eleven – How Many Partners?

During eras of free love, many people have multiple partners either sequentially or concurrently. Their emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual experiences can range from superficial to deeply intertwining.

When a current society defines sexuality as a precursor only to monogamy and eventual commitment, those who have had multiple partners can be condemned as somehow lacking in their inability to hold on to a relationship. People who have chosen or simply endured many short-term sexual encounters tend to hide them from their current partners, in fear of being rejected. Though many feel that applies more predominantly to women, I have found that there are also men who are reluctant to share their past histories as well.

Despite the sampling of many potential long-term partners is now more readily available, most people still yearn for “the one.” Sequential monogamy seems to fill the gap, but, in many cases, is simply the new term for the old romantic relationships that faded when reality set in.

What is most important is not how many partners any one person has had, but how he or she cumulatively feels about themselves as a desirable sexual partner in the present.

Number Twelve – Availability and Compromise

This dilemma is, sadly, one that many would-be sexual partners face in their quest for new experiences. Ageism, geographical location, vocation, illness, physical limitations and/or desirability, financial constraints, religiousrestrictions, and personality issues can all contribute to a lack of potential options or the need to compromise.

When it is necessary to limit options because of ideas, moral choices, physical attraction, social condemnation, or hopes for compatibility and continued love, many people enter relationships feeling discouraged and somehow pre-defeated, or end up with a sense of incompleteness after a sexual encounter. Yet, some opportunities for physical gratification may be better than loneliness or a lack of touch.

There are seekers of intimacy who just can’t allow themselves to make the compromises that their life circumstances allow in order for them to be sexually active. Sometimes they try to find ways to live without those experiences in their lives, but many have told me of the loneliness that accompanies those decisions. That is especially true of those who are different, older, or too damaged from prior trauma.

Number Thirteen – Love, Sex, or Both

For some people, sex is sex and can be enjoyed regardless of the quality of a short-term or long-term relationship. For others, sex is the physical expression of a deeper affection and connection.

When courtship was a requirement in order for sex to follow, it was more difficult for more highly sexual people to participate, primarily males. The uncertainty of whether or not the orgasmic goal would be achieved and the intricacies of seduction were hard for many to navigate.

As sexual availability is now more common without the necessity of those complicated overtures, many people can indulge in sexual connection relatively soon into a relationship without needing to develop other dimensions as readily.

Unfortunately, sexual passion, without those additional connections, most often abates over time when love hasn’t had the chance to adequately develop.

Though great chemistry will forever be desired and enjoyed, most of my patients would prefer to have it all and to simultaneously hold on to the passion they felt for one another at the beginning of their relationship.

Number Fourteen – STD’s and Other Painful Embarrassments

Many of my patients have been exposed at one time or another to a sexually transmitted illness. Because society still correlates those conditions with sexual impropriety, those who have been infected often feel that sting, even though their exposure may have been innocent.

Even in the safety and comfort of the therapeutic environment, most people do not even share that knowledge readily, and often with embarrassmentand humiliation. When do they tell a potential sexual partner they may be contagious? How do they let them know? How can they trust a new partner to let them know if they are in danger.

Many people also have understandable concerns sharing any kind of sexual dysfunction pattern, like erectile difficulty, painful intercourse, or anorgasmia. Others feel embarrassed about their physical attributes and fear that the nakedness of sexual connection will reveal them to rejection or humiliation.

Childhood shame around masturbation or being told that sex is dirty, obligatory, or self-serving may approach physical intimacy with a combination of normal desire mixed with guilt or self-reproach. If their partners are not aware of these vulnerabilities, they may inadvertently say or do something that can set off triggers they did not know existed.

Number Fifteen – The Outliers

Mutually desired sexual connection, in all of its myriad forms, inhabits a wide swath of attitudes, behaviors, desires, and interactions. Yet, society does accept some of those behaviors more readily than it does others.

For instance, a number of people seek polyamorous involvement, dominance/submissive interactions, multiple partners at one time, or any form of sexuality that might be referred to as “kinky.” Many who engage in those more fringe behaviors may choose not to speak freely of them to others who do not.

Some sexual behaviors are criminally forbidden and those who engage in them are usually careful to stay anonymous.

If any form of sexual connection is mutually agreed upon and there is no coercion/punishment involved, and both partners are not selling out in ways that could be eventually self-harmful, most sex therapists would not find that wrong. There are still those who would put restrictions and negative consequences on them, simply because they cannot accept those behaviors in themselves.

The emergence and awareness of now gender fluidity have put many people under a prejudiced microscope in terms of their sexual behavior. As it was many years ago for homosexual people who were often thought of only in the ways they were sexual, transgender people today are often unfairly depicted as sexually deviant.

So, Who Are You Sexually and Are You Okay with Who You Are?

After reading through this article, are you able to see yourself more clearly as a sexual being?

Do you feel comfortable talking to a potential sexual partner openly about what you bring to the relationship as to what you need and what you can authentically offer?

Do you understand what drives you to connect sexually and what your limitations and desires are?

Can you work through your sexually conflicted areas so that you can transform into a more integrated and comfortable sexual partner?

Does it make more sense to you know how you may have ended up allowing your sexual experiences to harm you or to continue triggering old memories that need to be resolved and left behind?

Can you see, accept, and embrace your own sexuality better than you could before?