How does marijuana affect people’s sex lives? According to scientific research, it seems to be an aphrodisiac for a lot of people. For example, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that marijuana smokers reported having sex more frequently than non-smokers—specifically, they reported having sex about 20% more often.
Not only that, but many people report that sex is better when they’re high. For instance, research has found that most women who have used marijuana before sex report that it not only increases their sex drive, but it also makes sex more pleasurable and results in more satisfying orgasms. Likewise, many men report that marijuana increases their sexual stamina and gives them longer-lasting erections (although some studies have found that marijuana can impair erections, perhaps reflecting a dosage effect of this drug).
Given these effects, it’s reasonable to wonder whether increased access to marijuana might result in broader population changes in sexual behavior. Specifically, what happens when states legalize marijuana? Do people tend to have more sex? If so, does this have implications for the potential outcomes of sex, such as an increase in the birth rate? A recent study published in the Journal of Health Economics offers some insight.
In this study, researchers looked at changes in sexual activity patterns and the birth rate in U.S. states pre- and post-legalization of medical marijuana. They focused on changes in medical marijuana laws (as opposed to laws regarding recreation use) because there aren’t enough datapoints yet to explore the impact of recreational legalization on sexual behavior, given that this is a very recent phenomenon. There is also reason to think that medical marijuana laws might have an effect on sexual activity, given that there is data showing that medical marijuana legalization is linked to an increase in recreational use (perhaps because this partial legalization creates more opportunities for marijuana to be obtained and used for other purposes).
Researchers used a large dataset to model potential changes in sexual behavior in relation to medical marijuana laws and here’s what they found: (1) passage of these laws was linked to increased marijuana use in general, especially in states where home cultivation is permitted, (2) birth rates increased by 1.8% on average following legalization (and 2.7% in states allowing home cultivation), (3) passage of these laws was linked to a 4.3% increase in the odds of people saying they were sexually active in the last month, and (4) rates of contraceptive use and rates of condom sales both decreased by about 5% following legalization.
There are some important limitations of this research, however.. One is that only adults aged 21-30 were included in this study; thus, we cannot say whether the same effects emerge in participants of different ages. More importantly, we can’t say for sure that legalization of medical marijuana is what caused the observed changes.
These data are correlational and it’s possible that other factors are playing a role. For example, consider that the data for this study only spanned the years 2004-2014. Most of the laws studied didn’t take effect until 2010 or later. This means that the pre-legalization period included the Great Recession (which lasted 2007-2009), whereas the post-legalization period focused on a period of sustained economic growth. Perhaps higher birth rates and greater sexual activity in later years had more to do with things like lower levels of stress and greater financial security than they did with marijuana legalization.
It’s also possible that people thinking about starting families were more inclined to move to states passing marijuana laws (and not just because they might be interested in using marijuana themselves, but perhaps to take advantage of new business opportunities). As some support for this idea, passage of both medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado (which happened a few years apart) were both linked to increases in the number of residents moving to the state.
Replication of these findings in studies that can take these limitations into account would therefore be worthwhile. That said, these findings suggest the provocative possibility that laws legalizing marijuana just might increase rates of sexual activity and, potentially, the number of births. To the extent that this is true, it suggests an intriguing potential solution to the problem of stagnating population growth.
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To learn more about this research, see: Baggio, M., Chong, A., & Simon, D. (2019). Sex, Marijuana and Baby Booms. Journal of Health Economics, 102283.
Image Source: 123RF/Joshua Rainey
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