Sex and the Stoner

For centuries, the human race has heightened carnal bliss with cannabis. In fact, many people can't imagine having sex any other way. Is that a problem?

Remember that scene from the movie Annie Hall? Diane Keaton and Woody Allen start to get romantic, but she puts a momentary hold on things so she can smoke some pot in order to more fully enjoy the experience? She can't get into it without the weed.

Woody protests. "Grass. The illusion that it will make a white woman more like Billie Holiday," he says. "I don't know why you have to every time we make love."

Reluctantly, she allows him to take the joint out of her hand. They start the process, but things go downhill. She proceeds to leave her body, get out of bed and contemplate the couple in bed with indifference from a chair across the room. Woody is hard-pressed to get a rise out of his partner.

"You seem sort of distant," he observes.
"Let's just do it, all right?" she sighs.
"Is it my imagination or are you just going through the motions?" he inquires.
"You have my body."
"But I want the whole thing!"

People who love pot love that scene, because the little drama is rooted in truth. Dr. Lester Grinspoon, the revered Harvard Medical School professor and marijuana proponent, talks about a patient he once treated "who felt marijuana was so important to his sexual experience that he no longer wanted to have sex without marijuana."

He adds, "It caused some difficulty, because his wife was very much opposed to marijuana. She liked sex, but she didn't like the idea that he needed marijuana for it. It was a question of how to work it out so he could have marijuana without her being exposed to it."

In strict medical terms, Dr. Grinspoon states that cannabis is not an aphrodisiac. However, millions of stoners beg to differ. There is certainly enough historical precedent to classify it as such. Five thousand years ago, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung -- known as "the wise healer" -- noted hemp's medicinal properties for improved sex. Marijuana was a common ingredient in aphrodisiac formulas prescribed in Ayurvedic medicine of the Hindus in 1000 BC. Pot also has a place in Tantric sex practices. The Greeks were divided on the subject of cannabis and the sex drive. Dioscorides advised using the juice of marijuana seeds for treating low libido, but Galen and Pliny wrote that too much juice could cause impotence.

But let's not get off the subject. No one is munching on pot seeds to attain a pleasure boost. It's the smoke that makes sex great (or eaten THC, take your pick) and stoners have known it for years. You can find references to pot's effect on sexuality described in Arabian Nights. In 1850, Frederick Hollick published Marriage Guide, in which readers were advised to use hashish as a sexual stimulant if their marriages were in trouble. In 1867, Louisa May Alcott, author of the American classic Little Women, wrote about the aphrodisiac properties of hashish in "Perilous Play." One character advised the "bashful man to take hashish when he wants to offer his heart to any fair lady, for it will give him the courage of a hero, the eloquence of a poet, and the ardor of an Italian." A century later, a survey conducted at the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic reported that marijuana was the substance most cited as being the one most often chosen "to make sex better."

"Marijuana can be very helpful," says Dr. Peter Gardos, a licensed clinical psychologist and possibly the Internet's most popular online sex therapist, proffering advice at the Oxygen, About, Thrive and My Pleasure Websites. "Things can be so greatly changed by just loosening up a bit. That might mean lighting up. People have so many hang-ups, so many concerns. They're worried about their performance, they're worried about their partner and on and on. There is something called 'spectatoring,' which is an all-too-common situation. It's like you're in a dream state instead of being in the here and now, part of the experience. It's almost as if you're a couple of steps behind yourself, almost watching yourself. That can really detract from your enjoyment and the enjoyment of your partner. Whatever you can do that can get you in touch with the experience is helpful. Of the clients I've heard from who have used it for sexual enhancement, I've heard very few negative comments."

But pot-smokers who devoutly swear by stoned sex go even further. "It's the orgasm," claims Claire, a 22-year-old Denver college student. "The first time I got high, I couldn't believe it. It was a crashing sensation, like glass breaking in my brain. And what everybody calls the afterglow was like my own private show. I just lay there watching my mind spin random thoughts out as if they weren't even mine. I was completely unhooked from normal thought patterns. It was fabulous."

For others it's the details, the textures, the nuances of sensation they never were quite aware of when they were straight. "Oral sex is amazing when you're high," says Gary, a 30-year-old construction worker. "When I was younger, before I really got into pot, I wasn't that crazy about going down on a woman. I didn't mind receiving, but, I don't know, it just wasn't my thing. But then I was with this great girl and we were hitting it off. She had pot, I took a few puffs, one thing led to another. I don't know. Things sure changed. Now I kind of feel equal on both ends of the bargain."

Dr. Gardos says that's not surprising. "One of the funny, ironic things about people who are so concerned with pleasing their partner -- what their partners want -- is that it's actually not the best approach to pleasing your partner. Most people say what turns them on the most, what they really enjoy the most, is knowing that their partner is having a good time and that they're into it. People who are excessively focused on doing everything for their partner seem to be the people whose partners say sex isn't that fun."

It's hard to generalize about any human behavior, especially when it comes to sex, but one of marijuana's more surprising attributes is its ability to quell premature ejaculation in men. It's not fully understood why, but marijuana seems to allow the male to change pace and become more attuned to sensation and the rhythms of his body. Premature ejaculation is an anxiety response. In short, marijuana seems to reduce the anxiety.

For others, marijuana is more. It enables sex. The late, great marijuana-rights attorney Ralph Seely, who battled cancer until his death earlier this year, spoke openly about pot and its medicinal properties for sex. "I can have sex without pain after taking just a couple of puffs of pot in my pipe. This is dangerous?"

It comes down to the question of sexual satisfaction. Are we all not entitled -- male, female, young, old, healthy, physically disadvantaged or chronically ill? Isn't it a reasonable expectation? And if we can bolster our confidence a bit with a bong hit, are we truly hurting anyone?

Probably not, but it is good to remember that marijuana can induce what we can politely call "moments of the extreme" -- a little psychic mayhem. A couple who spent their honeymoon in Negril, Jamaica bought a space cake on the beach and split half of it. They retired to their room for some hot afternoon sex. The huge dose of ganja in the cake went to work. The bride recalls, "It was scary. Just scary. I don't know, it was so wild and he didn't look like himself anymore." The new husband agreed. "Man, I don't know what was going on, but it was out there. Just incredible, out of this world. I couldn't see straight. Everything was swirling."

They both collapsed for 15 hours following their mystical romp with the ganja spirits. The next day they looked at each other somewhat shyly, but in wonder. "We both knew that we had gone through this sex trip together and I think that brought us closer together," she says. "But I would never eat space cake again. Ever!"

Space cake aside, pot does not produce whacked-out, mind-blowing sex with normal doses.

Of course, it can. But it's more a matter of what you bring to the bedroom.

Dr. Grinspoon calls the effect of marijuana on the sexual experience "subtle." Dr. Gardos cites "mindset, setting, what you're expecting out of it and how you use it" as being key in creating better sex with cannabis. He continues: "Most people just need to relax and realize they're normal. It's the underpinning of eighty percent of my questions. People worry about what they're doing. They believe that what they're enjoying may not be normal. It's a prevailing theme."

But back to Annie Hall. What about those sex partners who think that stoned sex isn't "normal," those who prefer that both parties be straight when engaged in a naked romp?

"Generally, the odds aren't good that the couple will stay together," says a New York-based couples therapist. "Smoking pot is representative of a certain lifestyle, a way of dealing with life. Everyone chooses their release. But people who have issues with pot-smoking, whether it involves sex or not, seem to hold their beliefs very strongly. Maybe they know someone who has a problem with drugs, maybe someone in their family. Then there are the legal risks. These are legitimate concerns. To abstain from smoking marijuana to honor someone else's feelings is a sacrifice. It's up to the individual to make such a gesture a success."

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