Sex and Psychedelics

History records few human quests as unremitting or as widespread as the search for a harmless, effective sex stimulant. Recent claims – such as those made by Dr. Timothy Leary – that LSD is the greatest aphrodisiac known to man, have excited much interest in the sexual potential of psychedelic drugs. Sober discussion of psychedelic substances was difficult enough before sex entered the picture; now it is close to impossible. But bearing in mind that there is a great deal more to psychedelics than sex, it might clear the air to examine the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide – and several other psychedelic drugs- on human sexual behavior.

Along with the comparatively new synthetic psychedelics, including LSD and psilocybin, there are similar mind-altering substances present in many forms of plant life. Some of these have been used for hundreds and even thousands of years. Examples are the peyote cactus, the Cannabis hemp plant, the opium poppy and several varieties of mushrooms and morning-glory plants. Most have been linked in one way or another with sex.

To determine whether psychedelics plants are, indeed, aphrodisiacs, we must first determine what we mean by an aphrodisiac. If we mean that the drugs specifically excite the sexual organs, then psychedelics are not aphrodisiacs. If we mean that they produce or encourage sexual desire, again they are not aphrodisiacs. But if we mean that the drugs can profoundly enhance the quality of sexual acts that occur between people who would, in any case, have had intercourse, then the drugs are aphrodisiacs, and my only objection to the term in this context is that it will continue to be misused by psychedelic or sexual extremists.

Drug-state phenomena that occur during a sex act occur in other drug-state contexts, too. The most common are changes in sensory perception, in awareness of time, in the state of the ego, in one’s relations to others and in the emotions generally. In fact, these changes effect whatever one does, whether it be listening to music, walking through a forest – or making love.

People rarely have sexual intercourse at the very start of a psychedelic trip. First, as the perceptual changes occur and as consciousness is altered in other ways, they need to orient themselves in this new world. In my sample, this was true no matter how many previous LSD experiences they might have shared. Typically, when there is sexual intercourse, it occurs at least one hour and usually several hours after the onset of the psychedelic effects.

Several elements combine to produce novel and extremely pleasurable awareness of time. For one thing, intercourse always does last much longer in terms of the clock. This is probably because of the mildly anesthetized state of the sexual organs – although the term ‘anesthesia’ seems strikingly inappropriate in describing these very intense sensations. Moreover, diminished inhibitions soon produce self-confidence and spontaneity that help reduce concern about the duration of the act. Finally, there is the distortion- or ‘slowing down’ – of time that is a usual and important aspect of the psychedelic state. This distortion (a term that is technically correct but fails to convey its positive qualities) of subjective time is experienced because the mental processes have been enormously accelerated. So much may be experienced in a few minutes of clock-measured time that the person typically declares that ‘hours’ or sometimes ‘eons’ seem to have passed. A sexual union that in fact lasts 30 minutes or an hour may seem ‘endless’ or to have ‘the flavor of eternity.’ Lovemaking that lasts for several hours is not too infrequent.

In view of all that has gone before, the orgasm – when it arrives – may seem something of an anticlimactic climax. Some people, in this orgasm-happy society, learn for the first time how much more than can be to sex than the brief intensity of the climax – and how much their past sexual experience has been impoverished by the urgent and infantile drive toward orgasm that is so prevalent in Western societies.

Orgasm is often experienced upon two levels. It is the most intensely erotic aspect of the act, as consciousness seems totally absorbed in the orgasmic sensations. And yet there seems also to be another consciousness, which does not dilute but rather reinforces the genital consciousness. This is the sense of attaining the beautiful climax of a beautiful experience.

Under the influence of psychedelics, the an orgasmic woman can experience great joy in intercourse and derive gratification from conferring just as much joy on her partner. If this lesson were learned and applied to all intercourse, many people – both male and female – would be better off for it. It is worth noting that at least some have learned it through psychedelic experimentation.