Young adults report differing sexual effects from alcohol, marijuana, and ecstasy

January 10, 2018, New York University

Alcohol, marijuana, and ecstasy each have very different sexual effects, from attraction and desire to sensitivity to sexual dysfunction, finds a study by the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research (CDUHR) at NYU Meyers College of Nursing.

The findings, published in the journal Psychology and Sexuality, suggest that different substances are therefore associated with different sexual risks for users.

Alcohol, , and ecstasy (also known as MDMA, or Molly when in powder form) are among the most prevalent substances used by young adults. While there has been extensive research on substance use as a factor that leads to , few studies have focused on specific sexual effects of different substances.

In this study, the researchers surveyed 679 (ages 18 to 25) entering electronic dance music (EDM) parties at nightclubs and dance festivals in New York City to examine and compare self-reported sexual effects associated with use of alcohol, marijuana, and ecstasy. The researchers compared self-reported sexual effects of these substances. Of those surveyed, nearly four out of ten (39 percent) reported having used all three.

The researchers found that compared to marijuana, alcohol and ecstasy were more strongly associated with certain heightened perceived sexual effects, including attraction, sexual desire, and social outgoingness (which can facilitate meeting partners).

Increased attraction - both feeling more attractive and attraction to others - was most commonly associated with consuming alcohol, followed by ecstasy. More than six out of ten participants reported feeling more attractive on alcohol (67 percent) or ecstasy (61 percent), but only a quarter (25 percent) felt more attractive on marijuana. Similarly, most participants reported that alcohol (72 percent) or ecstasy (64 percent) led them to be more attracted to others, while marijuana only increased attraction in others in about a quarter (27 percent) of respondents.

Increased social outgoingness - defined as outgoingness making users more likely to meet a partner - was reported by the majority of people who drank alcohol (77 percent) or used ecstasy (72 percent), yet only a quarter (26 percent) of users reported an increase on marijuana. In fact, over a third (36 percent) reported that marijuana decreased their sociability.

"These results align with previous research on the social effects of alcohol use, which link alcohol use to increased feelings of self-acceptance and decreased feelings of social anxiety in social situations," said CDUHR researcher Joseph Palamar, PhD, MPH, the study's lead author and an associate professor of population health at NYU Langone Health.

Ecstasy - also known as the "love " - was more associated with heightened sexual intensity, length of sexual interaction, and orgasm intensity compared to alcohol and marijuana. This finding was expected by the researchers; however, they warn that Molly is commonly adulterated with drugs such as "bath salts" so it is unknown how many of these users actually used MDMA.

Among males, sexual dysfunction was most common while using alcohol or ecstasy, yet females were more likely to report sexual dysfunction after using marijuana.

"While alcohol and ecstasy can increase , these drugs can actually hinder sexual performance of males," said Palamar. "Alcohol can numb the body, which can delay or prevent orgasm, and impotence is common while high on ecstasy, despite the drug increasing body sensitivity."

Women reported mixed sexual effects when using marijuana. Marybec Griffin-Tomas, a doctoral candidate at NYU College of Global Health and coauthor of the paper, said, "While females may feel more sensitive to sexual contact while high on marijuana, they are more likely than males to report resulting from use."

Post-sex regret was most common after (reported by 31 percent) compared to (13 percent) and marijuana (7 percent). Palamar - who was not surprised by this finding - explained, "Alcohol is more commonly associated with regretful behavior such as 'one-night stands.'"

The authors warn that more research is needed as this study had various limitations. For example, recall can be limited, and other important factors such as experience with a drug, amount used, when a drug was used in relation to encounters, and co-use of other drugs was not considered.

Given the different sexual effects of the substances, the researchers state that their findings can inform prevention and harm reduction efforts that take into consideration the motivations and variations in risk among those who use such substances.

"This study focused heavily on the influence of drugs on sexual pleasure. From a public health standpoint, we must consider the role of pleasure in an individual's decision making. Most sexual education and drug use programs do not address pleasure as a reason for having sex - including condomless sex - or using drugs," said Griffin-Tomas.

Explore further: Drunk or stoned—comparing sexual experiences related to alcohol and marijuana use among adults

More information: "A Comparison of Self-Reported Sexual Effects of Alcohol, Marijuana, and Ecstasy in a Sample of Young Adult Nightlife Attendees," Psychology and Sexuality, 2018.

Related Stories

Drunk or stoned—comparing sexual experiences related to alcohol and marijuana use among adults

August 4, 2016
A new study, published in Archives of Sexual Behavior by researchers affiliated with New York University's Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), compared self-reported sexual experiences related to use of alcohol ...

Medical marijuana laws reduced alcohol consumption

December 13, 2017
Medical marijuana laws caused alcohol sales to tumble in many states, according to a new paper co-authored by Georgia State University Economics Professor Alberto Chong.

Hair sampling shows unintended 'bath salt' use

February 18, 2016
Ecstasy—or MDMA, the active chemical ingredient—is one of the most prevalent party drugs; it is estimated to be used by at least one out of ten young adults in the United States.

For young adults, cigarettes more pleasurable with alcohol than with pot

April 18, 2017
Young adults get more pleasure from smoking cigarettes while they are drinking alcohol than they do while using marijuana, according to a new UC San Francisco study.

Researchers document self-reported use of new synthetic drugs by teens and young adults

September 15, 2015
In recent years, there has been an increase in emergence and use of a variety of new drugs, so-called "novel psychoactive substances" (NPS) in the US and worldwide. However, there is little published survey data estimating ...

Recommended for you

Study finds evidence of intergenerational transmission of trauma among ex-POWs from the Civil War

October 16, 2018
A trio of researchers affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research has found evidence that suggests men who were traumatized while POWs during the U.S. Civil War transmitted that trauma to their offspring—many ...

Adequate consumption of 'longevity' vitamins could prolong healthy aging, nutrition scientist says

October 16, 2018
A detailed new review of nutritional science argues that most American diets are deficient in a key class of vitamins and minerals that play previously unrecognized roles in promoting longevity and in staving off chronic ...

Age at which women experience their first period is linked to their sons' age at puberty

October 12, 2018
The age at which young women experience their first menstrual bleeding is linked to the age at which their sons start puberty, according to the largest study to investigate this association in both sons and daughters.

First ever meta-analysis on Indian lead exposure reveals link to devastating intellectual disability in children

October 12, 2018
New Macquarie University research has revealed the devastating disease burden associated with elevated blood lead levels in India. The results of the first ever meta-analysis of Indian blood lead levels found the burden of ...

The long-term effects of maternal high-fat diets

October 12, 2018
If a mother eats a high-fat diet, this can have a negative effect on the health of her offspring—right down to her great-grandchildren. This is the conclusion drawn by researchers at ETH Zurich from a study with mice.

Sit-stand office desks cut daily sitting time and appear to boost job performance

October 11, 2018
Sit-stand workstations that allow employees to stand, as well as sit, while working on a computer reduce daily sitting time and appear to have a positive impact on job performance and psychological health, finds a trial published ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.