Talking about psychedelic sex means talking about human sexual behavior—an area of scientific inquiry that’s still not fully understood.1

The study of sex in humans has shifted in recent years. Rather than focusing on sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy, sexual behavior studies have pushed for a more holistic understanding of the way sexual health impacts a person’s well-being.2

On the one hand, such a holistic shift is great news for our future understanding of human connection. On other hand, it means that there’s still a lot we don’t know about sexual health. In this way, psychedelics and sex share common threads: both are sensitive, controversial issues that are difficult to study. Here’s what we know so far, plus future directions for research.

Can you have sex on psychedelics?

No surprises here: It’s absolutely possible to have psychedelic sex, although there are many, many factors that impact the experience.

First, a necessary disclaimer—minimal contemporary research has explored the intersection of psychedelics and sexuality. So, most of what we know is based on anecdotal reports, case studies, and research from the 1960s, before governments banned psychedelics.

In the book “Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered,” published in 1979, drug experts Lester Grinspoon and James Bakalar wrote that psychedelics “heighten sexual interest and enjoyment only when the user is already inclined that way.”3 Said another way, set and setting play a big role in a person’s psychedelic sexual experience. If a person is already in the mood, psychedelics can amplify sexual feelings.

But here’s something to remember before adding “sex on shrooms” to your bucket list: Grinspoon and Bakalar note that psychedelics aren’t a “reliable way to increase sexual pleasure.” Psychedelic experiences are unpredictable; sexual desire can quickly turn into feelings of anxiety, fear, or even cosmic transcendence.

Sure, psychedelic sex might sound great—until you’re in the peak of a psilocybin trip and start hallucinating wild spirals and intense colors. Talk about a distraction.

Psychedelics, sex, and consent: Possible Risks

Just because you can have sex on psychedelics doesn’t mean you should. Before you experiment with psychedelic sex, talk about consent with your partner. Are they comfortable with intimacy? Are they willing to explore sex on psychedelics with you?

Remember: People in altered states of consciousness can’t consent to sex. So, the conversation about consent should happen when all parties are sober. And if you or your partner change your mind during the trip, that decision needs to be honored.

Finally, let’s say you’re tripping without the intent to have sex. It’s possible to develop feelings of sexual intimacy during the session. (This is especially true if you’ve taken MDMA, which can cause euphoria and a desire to bond with others.) Before the trip, discuss boundaries and what to do if either person crosses a line.

Can psychedelics improve your relationship (and your sex life)?

Currently, rigorous research and large-scale studies are lacking on psychedelics and relationships—let alone sex lives. However, there’s evidence that MDMA can help couples communicate with each other, which can foster deeper emotional intimacy.

For example, in a small trial in 2020, MDMA-assisted couples therapy was shown to reduce PTSD symptoms and improve relationship satisfaction.4 And in a long-term follow-up of individuals who had used MDMA therapy for PTSD treatment, almost two-thirds of participants reported improved relationships with loved ones.5

These findings build on MDMA’s history of use in couples therapy in the 1980s (until it was banned in 1985). Case studies from this time indicate that MDMA improved communication, improved introspection, and reduced the fear of getting hurt by a person’s partner.6

Most psychedelics haven’t been rigorously studied in relationships and sex. However, LSD has a history of use in case studies with couples through the 1960s—before the drug became a schedule I substance in the United States.

However, there are a lot of potential directions for future research. In an interview with Psychology Today, psychotherapist Dee Dee Goldpaugh said psilocybin might have applications in sex therapy. “I believe psilocybin can assist with body image issues, sexual performance-related anxiety, and feelings of shame,” she said and noted that psilocybin experiences are associated with an increase in openness and a decrease in existential anxiety.7

To that end, psychedelics such as DMT, LSD, and psilocybin have been shown to help change the way people think about themselves and others. Theoretically, this shift can help people whose behavioral and mood disorders interfere with their ability to connect with others.

Could psychedelics affect your performance?

Plant and animal compounds have long been used as aphrodisiacs, but psychoactive compounds aren’t always going to help you in the bedroom.

For example, MDMA might increase feelings of love and arousal—but it might interfere with the act of sex itself. In the article “Pharmaka, Philtres, and Pheromones: Getting High and Getting Off,” ethnobotanist Jonathan Ott notes that MDMA can actually hamper a person’s performance, in the same way that alcohol can make it difficult for men to get or keep an erection.8

What about LSD and sex? One of the effects of LSD is increased sensitivity to sounds, smells, and other sensations—including touch. This attribute hasn’t been studied in the context of sex yet, but anecdotally, it seems to help.

Other psychoactive drugs have anecdotal support for increasing a person’s sexual experience. For example, in an interview published in the anthology “Manifesting Minds: A Review of Psychedelics in Science, Medicine, Sex, and Spirituality,” chemist Alexander Shulgin and author Ana Shulgin described 2C-B as very “body-oriented” and a drug that people could have sex on. The trick, Ana Shulgin notes, is finding the right dose to avoid going “way out there.”8

Although psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA are generally regarded as safe, other drugs—such as 5-MeO-DIPT(also known as Foxy) and 2C-B—have less research to support their safety.

We don’t encourage the use of psychedelic drugs, but we do encourage safe drug use. Don’t combine substances, know what you’re taking, start with a low dose, and don’t trip alone. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse issues, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline.

What are the best psychedelics for sex?

Psychedelics are so unpredictable that it’s difficult to say whether one drug is better than the other.

MDMA might increase feelings of intimacy, but it can also interfere with the physical ability to have sex. LSD might increase sensitivity to touch, but you’ll have to find the right dose to remain aware of yourself and your surroundings. When in doubt, start low and go slow.

With that said, certain psychedelics aren’t conducive to a safe physical experience. For example, 5-MeO-DMT, DMT, and ketamine can make you feel detached from yourself and your body—a state of dissociation that makes it difficult to enthusiastically consent to sex.

Final thoughts

The study of psychedelics is still in its early days, including the study of psychedelic sex. Some drugs, such as MDMA and psilocybin, may play a role in future therapeutic approaches to couples and sex therapy. For now, we have anecdotes, theories, and plenty of opportunities for future study.

By the way, researchers from Indiana University and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion are also curious to know if psychedelics can affect a person’s sexual performance. As of this writing, you can check out their psychedelic sex survey and even contribute to their research.

References

1. Calabrò RS, Cacciola A, Bruschetta D, et al. Neuroanatomy and function of human sexual behavior: A neglected or unknown issue? Brain Behav. 2019;9(12):e01389. doi:10.1002/brb3.1389

2. Wellings K, Johnson AM. Framing sexual health research: adopting a broader perspective. Lancet. 2013;382(9907):1759-1762. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62378-8

3. Bakalar JB, Grinspoon L. Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered (Drug Policy Classics Reprints Series Number 1). 3rd ed. The Lindesmith Center; 1997:385.

4. Monson CM, Wagner AC, Mithoefer AT, et al. MDMA-facilitated cognitive-behavioural conjoint therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: an uncontrolled trial. Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2020;11(1):1840123. doi:10.1080/20008198.2020.1840123

5. Jerome L, Feduccia AA, Wang JB, et al. Long-term follow-up outcomes of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment of PTSD: a longitudinal pooled analysis of six phase 2 trials. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2020;237(8):2485-2497. doi:10.1007/s00213-020-05548-2

6. Wagner AC. Couple Therapy With MDMA-Proposed Pathways of Action. Front Psychol. 2021;12:733456. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.733456

7. Open Your Mind: Merging Psychedelic Therapy with Sex Therapy | Psychology Today. Accessed October 1, 2022. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/standard-deviations/201710/open-your-mind-merging-psychedelic-therapy-sex-therapy

8. Doblin Rick, Burge Brad. Manifesting Minds: A Review of Psychedelics in Science, Medicine, Sex, and Spirituality. EVOLVER EDITIONS; 2014:304.