Legalizing marijuana may lead people to have more sex, says study — but there’s a downside

A new study finds a link between states with legalized marijuana and people being more sexually active. (Photo: Getty Images)
A new study finds a link between states with legalized marijuana and people being more sexually active. (Photo: Getty Images)

People who live in states that allow medical marijuana may be more likely to have sex, according to a new study published in the Journal of Health Economics.

In the study, researchers looked at states that implemented medical marijuana laws between 2005 and 2014 and states that did not, and then analyzed how these policies might have influenced sexual activity and fertility in people in their 20s and 30s. The researchers found that medical marijuana laws are associated with an increase in sexual activity. But there’s also a serious downside: The same study found that cannabis use may make people less likely to use contraception, which can, in turn, contribute to higher birth rates.

So how does medical marijuana influence people's sex lives? The study authors noted previous research that shows marijuana “heightens sensory perception, increases relaxation, reduces stress and diminishes anxiety,” adding that “enhanced senses may contribute to an increase in sexual activity.”

David Simon, PhD, co-author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of economics at the University of Connecticut, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that because marijuana “treats chronic pain, improves life satisfaction, and decreases opioid abuse, it could result in heightened libidos/improved sex life.”

He adds: “With the liberalization of marijuana laws there has been an increase in cannabis-based products designed to improve sexual wellness, including products that help remove anxiety or pain associated with sex.”

Simon also notes that both high and low doses of marijuana are associated with an increase in women’s desire to be sexually active. However, it’s a bit of a mixed bag for men. While “low levels of cannabis use are associated with increased reported sexual arousal in men,” Simons points out that “higher doses may lead to a diminished libido.”

While marijuana may pave the way for a more relaxing sexual experience, it’s not without some consequences. The researchers found that contraception use, including condom sales, went down in states that allow medical marijuana, while birth rates went up — specifically, a mean increase of 2 percent, which translates to about 333 more births per quarter, according to the study.

“​To the degree that marijuana impairs judgement or limits communication between partners, marijuana use could cause a decrease in contraceptives that might result in unplanned pregnancies or the spread of STDs,” Simon tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

That said, Simon says he and his fellow researchers can’t say for sure whether people in the study who didn't use contraception were intentionally trying to get pregnant or whether they forgot or didn’t bother to use protection. “On one hand, more of these births occur to non-married partners and we find suggestive evidence of a temporary increase in gonorrhea following the passage of medical marijuana laws,” he says. “This is consistent with a story of ‘impaired judgement.’”

But he adds that “it is also possible some of these births are due to decreases in chronic pain and increased life satisfaction.”

So what should people take away from this study?

Simon says that one of the “spill over effects” of legalizing marijuana is increased sex and fertility, which can be both positive and problematic. “This could have beneficial effects — fertility is below the replacement rate in the U.S. — or negative effects — increases STDs and more young children in need of social services,” he says. “Regardless, we believe it should be something society/policy makers consider as part of the conversation on legalization.”

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