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Sealed Lips is Mashable’s series on pelvic pain, an experience rarely discussed but shockingly common.
People have been putting weed up their vaginas for centuries, so I figured I’d try it too.
Painful sex is a widespread issue that most people with vaginas are hesitant to openly discuss; I myself didn’t acknowledge that it affected my life this much until very recently. With the boom in cannabis-based intimacy products, thanks to a nationwide push to legalize marijuana, many people, including myself, are turning to weed to self-medicate.
I didn’t come to terms with the pain I often felt during sex until last year. My first sexual experience following the end of a traumatic relationship was excruciating and left me sore for days. The partner in question was kind, gentle, and reciprocal, but despite being comfortable with him, I couldn’t relax during penetration. It was far from an unfamiliar feeling — like many people with vaginas, I’ve experienced discomfort during sex all too often and would usually just grit my teeth and focus on the more pleasant sensations.
I chalked up my recent painful experience to the anxiety of sleeping with someone new, and when I had the same searing pain when we hooked up again weeks later, I assumed it was because I was having such infrequent sex. I didn’t realize how much the pain would impede my life until I started seeing someone new months after that. Despite building trust, focusing on foreplay, and regularly having sex, the pelvic pain persisted and once it even got intense enough to stop and just skip to aftercare.
Pleasure and pain can be simultaneous sensations, but when pain distracts from pleasure, it’s a problem.
Pleasure and pain can be simultaneous sensations, but when pain distracts from pleasure, it’s a problem. Multiple factors contribute to painful sex, from lack of lubrication, to conditions like endometriosis, to emotional issues. Many people experience vaginismus, which can cause the pelvic floor muscles to involuntarily spasm and make penetration unbearable, due to a variety of reasons, including anxiety, trauma, or tearing from childbirth. Allure reports that the condition can perpetuate symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Roughly three in four women experience painful penetrative sex, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and as my colleague Jess Joho reported, some gynecologists still recommend simply drinking a glass of wine to alleviate painful sex. Alcohol lowers inhibition and may temporarily boost libido in women, but it also limits lubrication and may make achieving orgasm more difficult.
Cannabis may improve blood flow to the vulva and reduce inflammation.
Credit: Getty Images
There are a number of ways to address painful sex, and it is worth seeking professional help from a doctor or pelvic floor physical therapist who can guide you through exercises and other techniques to soothe muscle spasms. In my case, monthly sessions were helpful in the long run but I wanted to be more comfortable in the moment.
“Consuming small amounts of cannabis by smoking or vaping could also help survivors feel more calm and embodied.”
Ashley Manta, a trained trauma advocate, sex educator, and author of The CBD Solution: Sex, told Mashable that she personally experienced pain during penetration after trauma, and using cannabis-infused topicals on her vulva allowed her to have pain-free sex again.
“That can help people with vulvas enjoy penetration again if they’ve been struggling with discomfort,” she said via Twitter DM. “Consuming small amounts of cannabis by smoking or vaping could also help survivors feel more calm and embodied,” which is when one practices being deeply present during triggering moments, rather than disassociating or relying on coping mechanisms.
So in my quest to be railed without pain, I turned to weed.
What does science say?
Marijuana has been used medicinally for centuries, and in states where medical marijuana is legal it has been cleared to treat a variety of conditions that affect sleep or cause nausea or pain. Despite its taboo past, some researchers are finding correlations between sexual pleasure and marijuana, from increased libido to longer orgasms to better lubrication. However, like with most cannabis research, findings are limited due to federal restrictions and more scientific investigation is needed.
A 2017 study by Stanford University researchers published in Sexual Medicine used data collected by the CDC’s National Survey of Family Growth to compare the frequency of self-reported cannabis use and participants’ self-reported frequency of sex. The study found that those who reported smoking weed also reported more frequent sex.
That study doesn’t directly link sexual function with marijuana use, but in 2019, Dr. Becky Lynn, a gynecologist and certified sexual counselor who teaches about the pharmacology of marijuana at Saint Louis University, conducted another study to get more specific data. Lynn surveyed 373 participants at an obstetrics and gynecology practice, 127 of whom reported using weed specifically before sex. Those who reported frequent cannabis use in general were more likely to report having satisfying orgasms and an increased sex drive. They were also more likely to report using cannabis to decrease pain during sex.
A 2020 study also by Stanford University researchers and published in Sexual Medicine surveyed 452 women — at dispensary locations instead of a doctor’s office, so the subjects may have been more honest about their cannabis consumption — using the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), which assesses desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain for more quantifiable data. Those who reported more frequent cannabis use overall also reported higher FSFI scores, and the more frequent the reported cannabis use was, the odds of reporting sexual dysfunction declined.
Studies on cannabis and sex are promising, but rely on self-reporting.
Credit: Getty Images
Since marijuana is still federally illegal in the United States, studies on cannabis and sex often rely on participants’ self-reporting. As Self noted in a piece about how weed affects sex, studies like Lynn’s rely on participants accurately reporting their own marijuana use. Considering the stigma still associated with both cannabis and painful sex, this could lead people to be hesitant to report self-medicating.
“You use the lowest dose that treats your symptoms, which is a basic tenet of how we prescribe other medicines.”
While we don’t know specifically how marijuana might improve sexual function due to a lack of clinical trials, and the survey studies haven’t made a direct connection between cannabis use and less painful sex, what we do know about weed backs up what survey participants said.
The effect cannabis has on the body, from reducing inflammation to increasing blood flow, is promising, Lynn said. She’s optimistic about using weed for sex, and she likens it to any other medication — you don’t always need to use it to get high, but you can use it to treat a medical issue.
“So when you smoke marijuana recreationally you want to get high, but when you use it as a medicine you’re really using it to treat a symptom, let’s say painful sex or pelvic pain,” she told Mashable. “You use the lowest dose that treats your symptoms, which is a basic tenet of how we prescribe other medicines.”
Cannabinoids — the molecules in cannabis like THC and CBD — interact with receptors throughout the body and brain, including in the pelvic region. Cannabis also appears to be a vasodilator, which means it opens the blood vessels. That results in increased blood flow to the genitals, which is associated with sexual arousal and sensitivity. Both THC and CBD also have potent anti-inflammatory effects and appear to make pain more bearable by affecting the users’ emotional state and improving mood. At certain doses, marijuana can relieve stress, though higher doses are associated with feelings of paranoia. Cannabis also interacts with receptors on the skin, which can make users extra sensitive to physical touch.
Studies on cannabis and sex are promising.
Credit: Getty Images
Dr. Melanie Bone, an obstetrician-gynecologist and medical marijuana provider in Florida, told Mashable that many of the patients at her private practice report better sex after using weed.
“For instance, topical or transdermal cannabinoids can help with pain at penetration — vestibular pain,” she said, referring to pain at the opening of the vagina. “And I often find that inhaled cannabinoids or ingested [like edibles] can help with deeper pelvic pain.”
Bone and Lynn want cannabis to be federally legal so researchers can perform more conclusive trials on the effect it has on sexual function. If it were legal, they’d be able to track blood flow to the vulva, measure pelvic floor movements, and perform brain scans during orgasm. Held up against a control group, observing these factors would yield quantifiable data on how weed affects sex.
Given the limited clinical trials on marijuana and the issues that come with self-reported surveys, cannabis users have to be their own guinea pigs until then because there is no “standard” dose to improve sex or reduce pain.
In my own experiment with my body, I tried several THC-infused intimacy products to reduce pain during sex.
Weed and sex
Women have used weed for sex throughout history. A translation of the Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian record of herbal medicine, suggests that cannabis was “ground into honey” and “introduced into her vagina.” According to the 2002 book Women and Cannabis: Medicine, Science and Sociology, the concoction was used to soothe childbirth pains.
Medieval “witches” were accused of applying “flying ointment” — a potent salve made of hallucinogenic herbs like nightshade, mandrake, and per Leafly, hemp oil — to their “broomsticks” for nefarious purposes. Historians theorize that women used these “ointments” for pleasure and pain management, and were accused of witchcraft when they were caught “flying” on their broomsticks. (Remember, female masturbation wasn’t just frowned upon, but actively demonized until relatively recently.) During Ireland’s first witch trial in 1324, investigators claimed Lady Alice Kyteler “greased a staffe, upon which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin.”
Despite being banned in the Soviet Union, cannabis was used by young brides on their wedding nights. They mixed lamb’s fat with nasha (cannabis) to reduce “the pain of defloration,” Mic reported.
And on the internet, women have traded recipes for DIY canna-lube for decades. One Reddit user described combining an edible and weed-infused coconut oil lube in a 2014 post: “I’ve done my fair share of drugs, but before this weekend I wouldn’t have said I had ever had a spiritual experience. I remember lying in bed in a semiconscious state, and becoming time itself. I witnessed the harmonic motion of colliding galaxies, and I had a feeling of deep understanding and purpose.”
I’m skeptical of most wellness claims, especially when it comes to ones revolving around cannabis. But I can at least affirm that weed lube did work for me, and while it didn’t bring me to any sort of ascendant omniscience, I had some pretty fantastic sex.
QuimRock’s serums helped me relax during sex.
Quim’s Night Moves serum did help me feel more relaxed during sex.
For this experiment, I tried two kinds of THC-infused intimacy oils: Quim Rock’s Night Moves, which contains 350 mg of THC in a 50 ml bottle, and Foria Pleasure, which contains 150 mg of THC in a 10 ml bottle. (Foria discontinued its THC line over the course of reporting on this story, but is still manufacturing its CBD products, which I didn’t test.) I also tried to use DIY weed-infused coconut oil, but that proved to be so cumbersome and messy on my own that I didn’t bother using it with my partner. It’s worth noting that many THC-infused lubricants are MCT oil-based, which means they aren’t latex-safe. Quim makes a latex-safe version called Oh Yes!, but for this experiment I just used non-latex condoms. To ensure safe sex, always check the ingredients in the lube you’re using and material the condoms are made of to make sure they’re compatible.
Both of the cannabis lubes I tried are more like pre-lubricants than actual lubes — Foria ($42) and Quim ($49.99) recommend applying it to the vulva at least 15 minutes before getting into it. The cannabis is absorbed through mucosal membranes (like on the clitoris, inner labia, and vagina) and the longer you leave it on before sex, the more likely it is to be absorbed.
There are sexier ways to spend that waiting period, but applying the lubes the first few times was awkward because it halted the natural progression of sex. I didn’t notice much difference between Foria and Quim’s intimacy oils other than the application method — Foria’s is a spray and Quim’s is a pump. Both felt clinical and clumsy at first, but after a few nights of applying it and making naked small talk until it kicked in, my partner and I figured out how to better incorporate it into sex. (It’s a delight when applied by both your own fingers and someone else’s.)
I didn’t feel high, but I was hypersensitive to physical touch around my vulva, and the pleasure was so intense that I didn’t notice my pelvic floor muscles tensing up. I’m not sure if I was just that relaxed, or if I was just distracted by how good I felt. Penetration was an ease for once, and the sensuality of this tactile overdrive seemed to add extra lubrication. I was most impressed by how heightened manual and oral stimulation felt — orgasms were deeper and lasted longer. It’s worth noting that when I applied too much of either brand’s lube, I was unbearably sensitive and couldn’t stand any touch whatsoever, so avoid any heavy-handed application. Three to four pumps of lubricant did the trick, but any more shut down any fun in bed for at least an hour.
Foria’s lubricants claim to ease pain during sex.
Foria’s lubricants claim to ease pain during sex.
I also tried vaginal weed suppositories, which are geared more for pain relief than pleasure. Hello Again’s suppositories, which are marketed as menopause discomfort relief products, are available in a 8:1 CBD to THC dose for “daytime” use and a 4:1 dose for “sleep.” While the sleep one did in fact knock me out (I was drowsy within an hour of insertion) the daytime suppository helped me relax enough during penetrative sex to not feel any discomfort at all. It was nowhere near the tactile pleasure I got from the topical lubricants, but it might be better suited for people who deal with sensitivity issues. The 4:1 dose seemed to work wonders for my menstrual cramps, though, as I felt like they were less severe.
None of the products I tried compared to more traditional weed delivery methods, though. Having sex after taking edibles or vaping weed is a gamble; too much and you risk feeling paranoid, sleepy, or ravenous for snacks, which puts a damper on sensuality. I’ve mastered the art of microdosing edibles and vaping just enough to not feel too high, giving way to incredible sex for both my partner and myself. In my experience, THC-infused topicals were a great tool for concentrated pain relief and pleasure, but it didn’t compare to the full-body relaxation and all-over enhanced tactile sensitivity that vaping weed yields. Even making out felt magical after heating up some live resin. Granted, this may not be an option for everyone and it’s only feasible when having sex at the end of the day, unless you’re prepared to feel high for a few hours.
Weed isn’t a cure-all
Cannabis is a powerful medicine, but it’s not a solution to deep-rooted trauma or other medical issues. Treating painful sex may require a multi-pronged approach of medical treatment, therapy, unlearning shame, and building trust. Weed can be a tool to aid in that process.
Manta, the sex educator and trained trauma advocate, noted that healing sexual trauma is a “multi-faceted process that takes a lifetime.”
“Cannabis is just one possible tool. Just like talk therapy is a tool, pelvic floor therapy is a tool, dilators are a tool, lube is a tool, etc,” Manta explained. “Each tool is helpful in its own way, and not all tools work for all people, which is why it’s useful to have multiple tools available.”
“Society tells us it’s in some ways good to be a sexual creature, but no one wants to talk about the health issues that might prevent someone from having pain-free sex.”
One of the first steps in improving your sex life is acknowledging the issues you may be experiencing. Cyo Nystrom, Quim’s cofounder and CEO, was first interested in combining weed and vaginal health after getting caught in a “vicious” cycle of UTIs and yeast infections. Sex was painful for her, too, but even more so because the friction from penetration increased inflammation and made her “more susceptible” to infections. But in a world where sex is either shamed or celebrated, there’s little nuance in discussing the less exciting parts.
“I think we’re still getting over all this like, Victorian shame around feminine sexuality,” Nystrom said. “Society tells us it’s in some ways good to be a sexual creature, but no one wants to talk about the health issues that might prevent someone from having pain-free sex. It’s not sexy to talk about the challenges or the side effects of having a healthy sex life.”
Society tells us it’s good to be a sexual creature, but no one wants to talk about the health issues that might prevent someone from having pain-free sex.
Credit: Getty Images
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is centered around unlearning those unhelpful, shameful thoughts and developing healthier thinking patterns instead. Somatic sex educators take it further, retraining the body to not jolt into a fight-or-flight response during sex through touch and boundary-setting exercises. Kiana Reeves, a somatic sex educator and Foria’s chief brand officer, told Mashable that cannabis products can be immensely helpful, but they won’t fix deeper issues.
“With these topicals, they’re amazing for in-the-moment. They’re absolutely phenomenal, but they’re not going to address long-term chronic issues,” Reeves said. She added that addressing pelvic pain may need a holistic approach, seeking treatment from a pelvic floor physical therapist, a somatic sex therapist, and doctors who understand that painful sex can’t be dismissed with a glass of wine.
My own experience in dealing with pelvic pain has involved weekly talk therapy, a handful of physical therapy sessions, and seeing a gynecologist who, thankfully, takes their patients’ pain complaints seriously. Hooking up with someone who is understanding of my trauma is crucial as well, and re-familiarizing myself with sex has been easier because my partner is so patient. Weed is only a perk in this healing process.
That being said, I’ll keep using it for sex.
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