Timothy Leary once called LSD the “strongest aphrodisiac known to man.” While this might sound outlandish to some, there is a kernel of truth. Recent research suggests that LSD can, in fact, increase intimacy. So, perhaps Leary is correct: sex and LSD make for good bedfellows. (1)

Lysergic acid diethylamide-25, otherwise known as LSD, is a classic psychedelic that is known for its mind-altering effects, hallucinogenic properties, and association with a certain counterculture movement in the 1960s and 1970s. While research on LSD exploded ever since its synthesis by Albert Hofmann in 1938, Nixon-era political backlash put a pause on psychedelic studies. It rendered the topic nearly impossible to study until the present day. Now, the nascent psychedelic renaissance has brought this substance back into the spotlight, where it has begun to re-establish its place in psychopharmacological research.(2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

However, due to the barriers to research (such as burdensome government regulations and the difficulty of accessing Schedule I substances), we know very little about LSD in the context of relationships and even less about its effects on sexuality. Relationships have a tremendous impact on overall well-being. In fact, psychotherapeutic interventions are less likely to work if someone is unhappy in their relationship. So, suppose psychedelics are to be incorporated for therapeutic purposes: In that case, examining individual couples in the context of how happy they are with their current level of physical and emotional intimacy will be critical to understanding LSD’s usefulness in relationship counseling. In relationships, a few factors point to a relationship’s overall quality, such as sexual well-being and satisfaction.(7, 8, 9)

Why are people taking LSD and having sex?

improving sexual intimacy thru LSD

There’s a growing number of couples that are using classic psychedelics and MDMA, intending to improve their relationship. This trend is well founded as LSD, which, like MDMA, was once explored as a tool for couples counseling, has been shown to help people connect with themselves, others, and the world around them.(10, 11, 12)

However, in terms of improving sexual intimacy, the effect of classic psychedelics is almost purely anecdotal. Sex and drug studies that do exist historically employ a pathological model (a dualistic view of the world that uses statistics to define “normal” behavior), exclusively examining the combination in the context of sexual risk-taking. Additionally, these studies tend to focus on the biological side of sex, looking at functional aspects, such as erectile function and lubrication, rather than the nonphysical side of sex, such as emotional connection and communication.(13, 14, 15)

However, this approach is rather unintuitive to naturalistic studies of psychedelic use, as most experienced individuals don’t go into a psychedelic trip with the expectation of maintaining an erection or having amazing orgasmic abilities, and those who may end up severely disappointed.

When it comes to tripping on psychedelics and MDMA, orgasm is very much secondary to the sexual experience. As one study participant recounts, “Orgasm is very different, difficult when you’re on MDMA as well, so it makes the sex very different in itself. It’s less focused on an orgasm or anything so it’s kind of that’s really enjoyable, to just enjoy someone’s body without it being centered around it ending at a certain point.” (13)

MDMA, while not a classic psychedelic, is an empathogen and can share certain qualities with LSD in its ability to facilitate emotional connection. Both LSD and MDMA can cause difficulty in achieving orgasm. However, they have the potential to potentiate sexual desire.(1, 10)

Does LSD increase sexual satisfaction?

sexual satisfaction

So, what exactly does the research say about LSD and sexual satisfaction? While the research is scarce, a recent study set out to explore substance use and sexual relationships with the prediction that certain drugs, including LSD, would harm sexual satisfaction.

However, the reverse was true in this case. Not only did LSD use predict improved sexual satisfaction, it was the only substance to do so when compared to cocaine, alcohol, cannabis, and MDMA. Unfortunately, the study is limited due to sample size, and given that it observes frequency and not dosage of substance use, it is difficult to gauge the intensity of the LSD trips that took place.(15)

Other studies, however, show that occasional consumption of small doses of LSD could be linked to better sexual function and satisfaction. This aligns with a statement from Ann Shulgin in an interview with MAPS, in which she discusses how dosage is essential to a sexual experience on psychedelics.

“You have to find the right dosage level. Otherwise, you’re going ‘way out there,’” Shulgin explains. Anecdotal reports of LSD use in sexual relations tend to agree that at higher doses, individuals are too distracted to engage in any kind of sexual activity. (10, 16, 17, 18, 19)

As it stands, the investigation into LSD and sexuality is greatly lacking, and the current research only stands as a small preview of what scientists should explore further. Currently, Johns Hopkins and Maastricht University, along with several other universities, are initiating studies on the connection between psychedelics and relationships and are actively seeking participants. (20, 21)

What is the future of LSD and sex research?

future of LSD and sex research

To date, it can be observed from nascent research that the combination of psychedelics and sexual intimacy moves beyond the hedonistic narrative of past sex and drug research. Notably, the exploration of LSD’s impact on relationships in naturalistic studies (a study conducted in a natural and conducive environment) reveals emotional benefits when a romantic partner is involved in therapeutic settings. This research also indicates improved sexual experiences for participants. This departure from standard sexuality research suggests that the interplay between LSD and sexuality may require evaluations that fall outside of the standard measurements imposed in typical sexuality research, as the current measures may be insufficient to encompass the experience. (13, 15, 22)

In the first naturalistic study by Neubert (2020) to assess the effects between individuals during a psychedelic experience, Neubert coined the term “psychedelic intimacy,” which refers to a distinct form of intimacy experienced by couples during psychedelic encounters. This concept is an extension of preexisting conditions of interactional intimacy established by Prager and Roberts’s 2004 study, which includes self-exposure (a technique where psychologists create a safe environment to “expose” individuals to the things they fear and avoid), positive involvement (actively engaging with your partner), and shared understanding. Psychedelic intimacy builds upon this by adding a fourth dimension, which influences the conditions of interactional intimacy through the altered state of consciousness induced by psychedelics. (22, 23)

Psychedelic intimacy may serve as a valuable focal point for relationship studies moving forward. This, in consideration of potential emotional advantages, such as lower risks of anxiety during a trip, encourages the idea of incorporating romantic partners into psychedelic-assisted therapy sessions where the partner’s presence may provide reassurance. (22)

It should be noted that for those interested in combining psychedelics with sexual intimacy, it’s crucial to have open discussions about boundaries and consent with a trusted romantic partner before the experience. Engaging in recreational LSD use requires careful consideration and should only happen after thorough research and education. You should also consult with your medical or mental health provider before trying LSD or any psychedelic. Having a designated tripsitter available, someone who remains sober to help if any challenges arise is highly recommended for a safer and more controlled experience. Furthermore, when psychedelics are used in a therapeutic setting, there is a smaller risk of adverse psychedelic events (aka bad trips). (19, 24, 25)

While we may not know if LSD is the strongest aphrodisiac known to mankind, some research indicates that LSD may hold significant potential to draw people closer together. By challenging conventional boundaries, LSD may enable an exploration of uncharted territories, both emotionally and empirically, within our understanding of relationships and offers insights into novel ways to foster deeper connections.

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