Drugs and sex: How do they affect each other? – Medical News Today

Drugs can affect sex in many ways, by both increasing or decreasing libido and sexual response and making sex more or less intense. They can also increase sexual risk-taking and change the way the body responds to sex.
Sometimes, the effects of drugs on sex change with time. Sex and sexuality are complex combinations of behavior and emotions — they both change physical states and rely on certain physical states.
For example, vaginal lubrication requires suitable hormone levels. These hormones may influence interest in sex, and the level of someone’s lubrication may affect their interest in sex.
Drugs that interfere with any stage of a person’s sexual response, including their thoughts and feelings, can affect sex. Often, the effects are unpredictable — a drug that had a positive effect one day might negatively affect sex over time.
Sex requires a coordination of hormones, neurotransmitters, physiological changes, thoughts, and emotions. Both prescription and recreational drugs can change many aspects of this process. For example, antipsychotic drugs can change hormone levels, especially in males, causing sexual issues.
In a 2018 study of 180 people with a substance use disorder, sexual side effects were common. Participants had various substance use disorders, such as alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, and opiate use disorder. People in all groups reported sexual side effects.
Some of the ways drugs may affect a person’s sex life include:
Drugs can make sex more or less pleasurable, and the specific effects of drugs on sex may change over time, especially if a person becomes dependent.
Drugs may also affect someone’s ability to remember sex, consent to sex, or communicate about sex.
As an individual becomes dependent on drugs for sex, they may find that their usual sexual feelings and behavior change. Some people may become dependent on drugs to enjoy sex or as a self-medication strategy for managing sexual problems.
This can lead to sexual dysfunction, even when a person no longer uses drugs. For example, someone who uses stimulants to manage erectile dysfunction may continue to experience this issue after they stop using. Generally, this will not resolve until they identify and treat any underlying causes.
Some drugs, such as opioids, may have long-term effects on sexual health. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that certain opioids may decrease sex hormone levels, leading to erectile dysfunction, missed periods, and infertility.
Mind-altering drugs, almost by definition, change a person’s ability to make decisions. Several studies suggest sexual assaults are more likely to occur in settings where either the victim or the perpetrator is consuming alcohol.
A 2021 study points to key ways that drugs can affect sexual decision-making, including:
The 2018 study of people with substance use disorders echoes these findings. Half of these individuals reported that drugs increased behavior that could have harmful effects. Users of gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) reported both an increase in sexual pleasure and potentially dangerous behavior greater than that of other groups.
Any drug can be dangerous during sex, especially during sexual activities that could have harmful effects. They could also negatively affect people with serious medical conditions. There is no class of drugs that is always safe, nor a single class of drugs that is the most dangerous in every situation.
Some especially dangerous drugs include:
Anyone who uses a potentially addictive drug can develop a substance use disorder. The risk increases when a person uses a drug for recreational purposes or at a higher dose than a doctor recommends. Some signs of substance use disorders include:
Seeking help for addiction may seem daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support. If you believe that you or someone close to you is struggling with addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:
Substance use disorders are a medical problem, not a moral or personal failure. A person with a substance use disorder needs a combination of medical treatment to manage withdrawal symptoms and psychological support to develop new coping skills and resist drug cravings.
An individual could find support from a doctor, support group, or mental health professional. Treatment may involve a combination of therapy, medical detox, medical care for any underlying conditions, lifestyle changes, and avoiding addictive substances.
In addition to treatment for substance misuse disorders, people who use drugs to have sex may also need treatment for sexual dysfunction. A doctor or mental health professional can help identify the underlying cause of the problem and improve a person’s sexual experience.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 800-273-8255.
Click here for more links and local resources.
The effect of drugs on sex is unpredictable. A person may find sex more or less pleasurable, be more or less interested in sex, or find that the effects vary with time and dosage.
Recreational drugs are not a substitute for sexual communication and consent. They are also not a safe option for treating underlying sexual health issues. Numerous interventions can help with sexual dysfunction. Additionally, using drugs to self-medicate may delay treatment and worsen underlying sexual health issues.
Moreover, drugs are harmful when a person does not need them for a medical issue. Over time, recreational drug use can lead to substance use disorder, health issues, and even overdose and death.
A person can speak with a medical professional for help with sexual health issues or for support to overcome addiction.
Last medically reviewed on May 29, 2022
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