Getting Down Under The Influence



 The phrase “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” has been in use since the ‘70s, but remove the rock ‘n’ roll and an all-too-common combination among today’s young adults is center-stage—one that can have harmful health effects. 

Lauren Zerbst, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in sex therapy, said young adults and college students are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol during sex. 

“It’s a time when students participate in all the things parents warned us about,” Zerbst said. 

Zerbst said mixing sex and drugs is common in present-day party culture, but many young people do not realize the effects of combining the two. Zerbst said alcohol, marijuana and cocaine are the most common drugs used by young adults, and they often affect sexual pleasure negatively. 


Zerbst said substances like alcohol can numb the pleasure experienced during sex. According to a 2014 study by Wesley Perkins from the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York, alcohol is the most misused substance on college campuses, and alcohol abuse often leads to unplanned and unprotected sexual activity. 

“Sometimes [alcohol] can enhance [sexual pleasure] and you may have an orgasm too quickly,” she said. 

Paul van Sickle, who studies music and costume design at Bennington College in Vermont, said having sex while drunk is sloppier. He said being heavily intoxicated can inhibit giving consent and he remembers it happened to him once. 

“It’s not that alcohol changes your mind or inhibits you in any way,” Van Sickle said. “It’s that you can’t quite make decisions in the same way.” 

Van Sickle agrees with Zerbst’s point about alcohol misuse, but said drinking alcohol also helps him meet new people. This is a double-edged sword because while it helps people open up, van Sickle said it also limits the type of interaction one can have while intoxicated. 

Zerbst said people need to make sure they are experiencing the joys of sex while sober as well. 

“Sex in itself is a conscious experience. People have the benefit of having orgasms that are like colors, shapes and a kaleidoscope of feelings,” Zerbst said. 


Zerbst said smoking marijuana can decrease women’s sexual desire, and they can become dependent on being high while having sex. 

Lillian Anderson, * a junior journalism major, said smoking weed intensifies sexual sensations. 

Anderson believes women have a more difficult time remaining turned on than men do during sex, though Zerbst said men experience a lack of sexual desire over time as well. 

“We have to think hard or work harder to remain turned on,” Anderson said. “Being high gets rid of the anxiety and distracts us from thinking too much.” 

From a medical standpoint, Zerbst said sometimes having sex while high on marijuana can inhibit lubrication, making sex painful for women. 

“Over time, you may be less interested in having it,” Zerbst said. 


Zerbst said habitual cocaine use most commonly causes erectile dysfunction and delayed ejaculation. Lex Ramsay, a freshman music major, noticed this problem during a period in his life when he frequently mixed cocaine and sex. He said the experience was enjoyable and exciting at first, but after some time he experienced strained sexual performance while on the drug. He said he could not get aroused as easily, which he saw as an indication to stop using cocaine until he could enjoy sex soberly. 

Marie Johnson,* a sophomore human psychology major at the University of Iowa, said using cocaine made her feel more sexually aroused and willing to try new things. She said using the drug intensified her sexual experiences, but it made sober sex feel boring in comparison. 

A 2009 study conducted by Dr. Richard Rawson and colleagues at the University of California at Los Angeles found that cocaine’s effect during sex was not nearly as strong for women as it was for men but was stronger when users combined methamphetamine. The study said cocaine’s effects include risky sexual behavior and more intense pleasure, which Zerbst confirmed. 

“[People] may feel like they need the drug in order to have a sexual experience,” Zerbst said. “If you’re not able to have sex without the drugs, that’s definitely a warning sign.” 

However, Zerbst said young people can feel anxious and awkward without a drug as a crutch to lean on when flirting or having sex. 

“Sexual interactions start with drug use of some kind,” Zerbst said. 

*Names have been changed for privacy.