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Observations placeholder

Masters and Houston - 1 Psychedelics and sex



Type of Spiritual Experience


please note that this was intended to be a serious article on drugs and sexuality

A description of the experience

November, 1967 Playboy Sex, Ecstasy and the Psychedelic Drugs - by R.E.L. Masters

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 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 Cannibis 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.


Whether opium - probably Homer's nepenthe - should be considered a psychedelic drug is largely a matter of semantics. Some would-be authorities exclude all addictive drugs, including opium, from the class of psychedelics. However opium does produce effects similar to those produced by nonaddictive psychedelics, and among these are sexual effects that merit consideration.

Prolonged use of opium results in mental and physical deterioration, including impotence. However, before it takes its toll, the drug can powerfully and pleasurably enhance sexual experience. No one has described the specific sexual effects of opium as well as the 19th century French Army surgeon and anthropologist Jacobus Sutor, who authored numerous sexological studies under the pseudonym Jacobus X. "According to my person experience," wrote Jacobus, "and from avowals made to me by women, both Europeans and Asiatics, the effects produced by opium in moderate doses, say from 10 to 20 pipes, are as follows: Under the influence of erotic excitement, either direct or merely mental, an erection is quickly produced, if you want to copulate. But - and this has never been remarked by any other author - although the penis is in a stiff erection, its nerves, and more particularly, those of the glans, are anesthetized by the effects of the opium, and though the erection is strong, the emission, on the contrary, is much retarded and takes place only after prolonged copulation. This anesthetic effect is also produced in the nerves of the vulva, the vagina and the rectum of the woman, and the 'psychological moment' arrives slowly. The constrictor muscles of the vagina, and especially those of the rectum, undergo a kind of relaxation." He goes on to say that, with larger doses, more than 15 or 20 pipes, erection becomes incomplete; and with 30 or 40 pipes, it is absent altogether.

Jacobus' remarks also apply to peyote, to the LSD-type synthetics and, to a lesser degree, marijuana. Those under the influence of these drugs describe the mild surface anesthesia, if that is what it is, as a feeling of 'rubberiness' that effects the penis, the female genitals and also sometimes the mouth, the breasts, the fingers and other body areas. It is by no means an unpleasant sensation; often it is described as heightened feelings of voluptuousness. Along with the rubbery sensation, the genitals, if excited, are felt to be engorged to an unusual degree.


At least as ancient as opium is the hemp plant (Cannibis sativa, or Cannibis indica). When used as a drug, it is called marijuana, hashish and a great deal of other names. Scientific reports on the sexual effects of marijuana are conflicting. For example, the French toxicologist Erich Hesse (Narcotics and Drug Addiction) tells us that marijuana and hashish provide no sexual stimulation whatever; but another physician-author Bernard Finch (Passport to Paradise), declares that "After several inhalations, a feeling of sexual excitement develops and the smoker is able to improve his sexual performance, in that erection is stronger and more persistent, but orgasm is depressed and usually does not take place."

I could provide a great many more conflicting 'authoritative' statements on this matter, although Finch is the only writer I know who suggests that marijuana by itself produces a condition of sexual excitation. He also is the only one to say that orgasm "usually" does not take place.

From many other times and places, we also have claims that hemp is an aphrodisiac - and other claims that it is an anaphrodisiac, an inhibitor of sexual desire or of potency. But whichever way they lean, the authors of these claims are relying on personal predilection, on very limited interview data or on the verdict of some favorite 'authority' who has already made similar errors. We find the same conflicting evidence from "experts" writing about the sexual effect of peyote or LSD.

Anyone who has carefully studied psychoactive drugs should know that many different effects are possible, depending on personal, cultural or immediate situational factors - which are often crucial in determining drug-state behavior. With marijuana and other psychedelics, people who are sexually stimulated may find that their stimulation is greater than usual and that their capacity to respond has been heightened. Others may find themselves totally indifferent such as the writer Theophile Gautier, who took some hashish and generalized that "a hashish user would not lift a finger for the most beautiful woman in Verona." The same individual may find that he is greatly aroused on one occasion and unexcited on the next. Or his mind may experience desire while is body is unable to act in concert with it.

Some cultures place great faith in the aphrodisiacal effects of hemp; and in those cultures the drug often does function as an aphrodisiac - producing sexual excitation, enhancing potency and pleasure, and prolonging sexual intercourse. Among Arabs, there is a vast lore of the effectiveness of hemp in maintaining an erection - the prolongation of the sex act being almost an obsession with some Moslems. A famous poem on this subject begins:

The member of Abu'l-Haylukh remained
In erection for 30 days, sustained
By smoking hashish
Abu'l-Haylukh deflowered in one night
Eighty virgins in a rigid rite
After smoking hashish

The poem goes on to describe still more feats of sexual athleticism; but underlying its characteristic Arab hyperbole is some solid fact - hemp can, indeed, prolong an erection. Besides the mild anesthesia described by Jacobus, the male, with marijuana, may feel that his erect organ is bigger and more rigid than ordinarily. Sometimes, as happens with LSD and peyote, too, orgasm does not occur at all, which causes him no great distress, since he feels that this is a small price to pay for the pleasure he has enjoyed, and the impression he has made on his partner. When copulation does not lead to orgasm, both partners still may achieve it by vigorous masturbation.

My own data regarding the contemporary use of marijuana use in this country - in terms of its sexual effects - reflect the conflict in this literature. Individual testimonials describe both sexual successes and sexual failures. Overall, it appears that up to now, marijuana has been about as likely to impair as to improve sexual performance. However, growing acceptance of the drug may be making the latter effect the more common. Much can depend on the users intention. Some prostitutes smoke marijuana to eliminate genital sensation - while at the same time they give the weed to their customer to help him become more stimulated. In this case, it probably works for the male because it makes him more responsive to the suggestion that he will be more potent - and simultaneously it may reduce his inhibitions and anxieties.

It should be noted, however, that sexual effects may relate to the potency of the drug. The strength of hemp products can depend on many things - where the hemp is grown, how it is harvested and prepared and how it is consumed. From one country to the next, or among regions of a country, there are great differences in the potency of the plants. As to consumption, it is believed that smoking gives the strongest effect, by altering the chemical composition of the drug. Research in these areas are now under way, but results are still inconclusive. The eventual findings may explain to some extent the different responses among marijuana smokers. But individual psychology will still be a major factor.

LSD and peyote

At its best, most marijuana consumed in the U.S. is a mild psychedelic drug, affording what is rarely more than a pallid approximation of the experiences possible with LSD and peyote. The effects of these two on sexual intercourse are virtually identical, and a statement about LSD may well be understood to apply just as well to peyote - and probably to their LSD-type psychochemicals, such as mescaline and psilocybin.

Results of research

I compiled my data on the sexual effects of psychedelic drugs in a series of interviews, mostly "in depth" beginning in 1954 and continuing today. My information is based on more than 300 drug-state sexual experiences on the part of 94 persons, about two thirds of them males. Nineteen homosexual experiences are included. The interview subjects were almost college graduates from middle-class white Protestant backgrounds. Most of them took the psychedelic drugs outside any formal research or therapeutic context and then reported their experiences to me.

In other words, I did not study the effects of psychedelics on sex in the laboratory, as sexual intercourse has been so fruitfully studied by William Masters and Virginia Johnson in St. Louis. My firsthand research with psychedelic drugs - which was largely concerned with matters other than sex - has now been abruptly ended by laws prohibiting almost all research in this area. But I did obtain, in the sessions I guided personally, some material significant in understanding psychosexual disorders. It was surprising how often these disorders seemed grounded in problem of values or, specifically, in low self-esteem. Nowhere can values be so quickly and so drastically changed as in LSD sessions. In several instances, discussed below, persons with sexual problems showed noticeable improvement after their LSD sessions - quite a remarkable occurrence, inasmuch as the sessions were intended as research and therapeutic results were not expected.

To determine whether psychedelics drugs 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.


The positive effects of LSD in lovemaking can best be appreciated by describing a hypothetical sexual act between husband-and-wife lovers - or between single lovers, should that seem more adventurous. I will not, however, hypothesize a casual erotic encounter between two near strangers, because such an encounter would be less likely to produce so favorable an experience. A strong emotional bond, or at least very positive feelings for the partner, is much more likely to yield the richest, most intense and most ecstatic experience.

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.

When the two people are longtime lovers, they may feel, in the drug state, an emotional closeness as intense as they felt in the early, most emotion-charged stages of being in love. Since visual perception is highly responsive to the emotions, each partner may take on an appearance of extraordinary radiance and beauty. Communication may seem multileveled, with a greatly heightened sensitivity to nuances of meaning - in gestures, caresses and words as well. If this couple decides to make love, they will bring this heightened sensitivity to their union, and their desire and the act itself may be suffocated with the same positive emotion - and with the same beauty - that has been present in their perceptions.

As foreplay and intercourse increase their excitement, the couple will become aware of the genital sensations described by Jacobus. The man may feel that his erection is larger and more firm and his potency greater than it has ever been before, heightening his confidence, producing a greater sense of total genital arousal and increasing his capacity to respond. Anxiety about the duration of the act will very quickly disappear. The couple will feel that their lovemaking will last just as long as they want it to last, so that time no longer matters. In the more profound experiences, there may be a sense of timelessness - of the eternal.

Several elements combine to produce these novel and extremely pleasurable awarenesses 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.

The sexual union gathers ever more meaning and beauty as it progresses. It may even take on symbolic and archetypal overtones. The couple may feel that they are mythic, legendary, or more-than-human figures as they act out in a timeless and beneficent space of eternally recurring drama of love and creation. The feeling of being more than human does not indicate grandiosity but, rather, that one has transcended the ordinary boundaries of self, the limits of time and space, so that something more, some infusion of the divine or supernatural, must have occurred. This awareness is accompanied by profound feelings of security, tenderness, humility and gratitude. Sometimes only one partner will enjoy this transcendental experience, but with surprising frequency the feelings are shared.

When sexual union includes altered states of consciousness such as these, it is properly described as ecstatic. It may progress to include one or even several instances of apparent physical and psychic melting into and becoming one with the partner. Whether this occurs in a sexual union or in a mystical context, or in a combination of the two, it is almost always regarded as one of the most profound and fulfilling experiences human life has to offer. The one that the two become is a unity much greater than its components. Religiously devout or mystically inclined people may have the sense of a unity that is also a trinity, with God present in the oneness. In any case, an experience of this order can hardly be dismissed as 'sexual mysticism' - a term sneeringly used by some of the more rabid opponents of psychedelic experimentation. Nor can it be tossed away with some labels from psychopathology, such as 'ego dissolution' and depersonalization.' It can be one of the most beautiful and important experiences in life.


The source of the experience

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