People attend the Denver Rally, the world's largest celebration of both the legalization of cannabis and cannabis culture, May 21 in Denver. Attitudes toward the drug are changing , rules governing its use are shifting and more and more states are voting to legalize it.
With widespread acceptance will come, theoretically, more widespread use. And that raises a whole lot of interesting questions for public health researchers. How will legal marijuana affect our children? Or how about our sex lives? That latter question inspired a research project by Joseph Palamar and his colleagues at New York University. This isn't a national sample by any means, and it's not meant to be. Rather, the purpose was to obtain a rigorous qualitative assessment of the different effects of alcohol and marijuana on people's sexual behaviors and to use this as a jumping-off point for future quantitative research.
Beer goggles are real. Respondents "overwhelmingly reported that alcohol use was more likely to negatively affect the partners they chose," the study found.
Once you start drinking, everybody looks good," a year-old female said. Marijuana use also was more associated with sex with people the respondents already knew — girlfriends and boyfriends, for instance. But alcohol "was commonly discussed in terms of having sex with strangers or someone new ," the study found.
Drunk sex often leads to regret. Stoned sex typically doesn't. One male said he accidentally fell asleep during sex while drunk. Another told of multiple instances where sex had to be interrupted because "I've had to stop and go hurl. One respondent said that marijuana use lessened his motivation to have sex.
Another reported that being high distracted her from the experience. The pleasure is usually better on marijuana. The study found that "alcohol tended to numb sensations and marijuana tended to enhance sensations. But that wasn't necessarily a good thing. It "sometimes lasts too long," one female respondent said. Drunk sex is riskier overall. People typically said they exercised poorer judgment when drunk than when stoned, and were more likely to blackout and forget whom they were with, what they were doing or whether they used protection.
Participants generally didn't note this type of behavior with marijuana and said that while under its effects, they felt more in control overall. Alcohol use seems to be closely associated with high-risk sexual behavior. Aside from the link with unprotected sex and the corresponding risk of unexpected pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, studies have also drawn disturbing parallels between alcohol use and sexual assault.
That link appeared even in the very small sample in Palamar's study: One out of the 12 women interviewed reported an instance of sexual assault while under the effects of alcohol. These negative consequences appear to be less pronounced with marijuana. Research found significantly lower incidences of domestic violence among couples who smoke marijuana, for instance. Christopher Ingraham writes about all things data. The story must be told.
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