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We Have Updates on What Cocaine Does to Your Sex Life (It’s Not Good News)

We Have Updates on What Cocaine Does to Your Sex Life (It’s Not Good News): Henry Guttmann / Getty

Henry Guttmann / Getty

Cocaine undoubtedly has a reputation that precedes it when it comes to increasing sexual desire and making people do things they wouldn’t normally do. Now, a new study in Psychopharmacology sheds light on the link between cocaine use and risky sex.

Research has shown that people who use cocaine regularly are more likely to have an STI, including HIV, but the exact reasons why have remained unclear. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University now believe something called “sexual impatience” is responsible; that is, a kind of impatience that revolves specifically around waiting for sex.

Twelve regular cocaine users (eight were male and the average age was 27) were brought into the lab for three sessions. In order to be included in the study, they had to report having had unprotected and condom-protected sex at least once in their lifetime. For each session, they were given a pill that was either a placebo or one of two different doses of cocaine, and were tested using hypothetical situations as part of a computer task.

Higher doses of cocaine were associated with being less willing to wait for a condom before sex, and being more willing to have unprotected sex even when there was a relatively high chance of contracting an STI.

That is, when a condom was immediately available, 80 percent to 87 percet of people said they would use one, and this was the case whether they were on cocaine or not. But for those on the drug, the longer they had to wait, the more willing they were to forgo safe sex. Without any cocaine in their system, participants were, on average, 60 percent likely to wait an hour for a condom, but when on the highest dose of the drug, this dropped to 40 percent.

When the odds were one in 2,000 of contracting an STI (which is roughly the same chance you’d have of acquiring HIV from unprotected vaginal sex with someone who is HIV positive), those on the placebo were about 70 percent likely to use a condom. Those on the highest dose of cocaine were about 40 percent likely to do so.

What I find most interesting, as mentioned earlier, is that these behaviors didn’t reflect a tendency to act impulsively across the board, but were instead specific to the domain of sex. When participants were asked about hypothetical situations pertaining to money, cocaine intake didn’t affect their decision making. For example, when given the choice of receiving a small sum of money that day or $100 after waiting a specified amount of time—ranging from a day to 25 years—whether or not someone was on the drug didn’t influence how long they were willing to wait.

Surprisingly, this was the first scientifically rigorous study to show that cocaine increases sexual desire. It also adds an important piece to our understanding of how the drug affects sexual risk-taking and the transmission of STIs. In addition, the authors deserve a high-five because I can only imagine how challenging it was to obtain institutional review board approval for this study, due to the fact they were providing an illicit substance to participants as part of their study protocol.

As with any research study, there were a few caveats when interpreting its findings: As the authors point out, taking the drug orally instead of snorting or smoking it (as is commonly done) may have changed how participants experienced its effects. Also, doing a computer task is not quite the same thing as having a real-life partner looking at you while you’re making these kinds of decisions.

The bottom line is, as I’ve said before, safe sex is everything and it never hurts to be over-prepared when you’re sexually active. Considering these findings, I’d especially recommend stocking up on condoms if you’re planning to use on a night out.


Debra W. Soh is a sex writer and sexual neuroscientist at York University in Toronto. She has written for Harper’s, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, The Los Angeles Times, The Globe and Mail and many others. Follow her on Twitter: @debra_soh.

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