Familiarity breeds contempt. Paradise, therefore, must remain unattainable, an ideal we strive for, a place to get to. Good sex can feel like momentarily reaching paradise. It’s a state intensified by the ephemeral—that, inevitably, it will end. MDMA, like many drugs, gives us permission to linger in euphoria a little longer than our brain—with its plans, worries, and incessant need to assess survival—typically allows. But if you return from your drug-induced voyage, dismayed by reality and measuring every moment against something otherworldly, nothing will feel good enough. “Better” is the enemy of “good”, and paradise the enemy of reality unless—we use one to inform what’s possible in the other.
MDMA (also called molly or ecstasy) can be used to heighten sexual arousal. It can foster those feelings of melding together, releasing into the fluidity of the moment without the snags of overthinking. With touch amplified and kissing turned borderline transcendent, it’s no wonder why the question has been asked: can MDMA ruin sober sex?
“You start kissing and it’s like you’re kissing for the first time again,” says Pat Smith, an ex-biologist and current writer for the psychedelic movement. “It’s like you forgot that this was a thing; how have I been kissing for so long without feeling it? Why aren’t we doing this literally all the time? It’s amazing, who can deny that? It can help us become better sober lovers and strive to bring our sober game up to those MDMA feelings.”
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However, while MDMA may actually make it more difficult for men to get an erection and may delay orgasm for women, according to a small study published in the journal European Psychiatry, that sustained orgasmic state is where the magic happens. The release of oxytocin, the “love hormone” responsible for solidifying emotional bonds, produces feelings of empathy and a desire for intimacy.
Psychologist Anne Wagner, founder of Remedy, a center for mental health innovation and MDMA research, says MDMA works on a whole host of neurotransmitters, as well as hormones. Among these chemicals, MDMA impacts 1) norepinephrine, which affects how the brain pays attention to and responds to events, and could therefore mean increased heart rate and blood pressure; 2) dopamine, which plays a role in how we feel pleasure; and 3) serotonin, which regulates mood, social behavior, and sexual desire, among other things.
Under the influence of MDMA, the brain has increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, says Wagner, which affects thoughts, planning, and connection. MDMA also quiets the amygdala, she adds, which is the area of the brain having to do with fear, fight, or flight. In the context of a sexual situation, like an orgy with plenty of people and stimulation, Wagner explains, your brain on MDMA may spend less time filtering people’s faces for negative reactions upon which to base your own feelings, and may be more attuned to positive reactions.
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“It may also be that your own negative feelings towards yourself take a longer time to activate, so you might feel less fear in a group of people, and therefore, experience more sexual arousal and may also feel empathically connected to multiple people at once,” says Wagner. “If something is lacking in your sex life without MDMA, I think the perception can be that it could ‘ruin it,’ however it can also be an opportunity to show what can happen when you feel connected, and your desire and arousal are high.”
“If something is lacking in your sex life without MDMA, I think the perception can be that it could ‘ruin it,’ however it can also be an opportunity to show what can happen when you feel connected, and your desire and arousal are high.”
What you discover through any mind-altering journey is only as useful as its integration.
“How willing are you to put energy, attention, and effort into cultivating those feelings in your sex life beyond the MDMA experience?” Wagner asks. “That comes down to the principles of good relational work and communication. What do you feel has been ‘ruined’ that you aren’t getting and need? It’s having the bravery to have those conversations.”
Comparing sex on MDMA to sober sex is like having the expectation that every sexual experience should feel as exhilarating as a one-night-stand worth reading about in something like the Casual Sex Project—a database of narrative sexcapades, including everything from group sex to short flings, sex with exes, and everything in between. It all comes down to the thrill of impermanent passion.
Authentic communication is a vulnerable experience. Casual sex or sex on MDMA comes with feelings of intimacy and heightened pleasure, and also allows us to feel safe within the comfort of the temporary. In the case of casual sex, you’re safe precisely because that person doesn’t know you enough to know how flawed you are. With MDMA, your brain is telling you that there are fewer things to fear and you’re having fun-fun-fun!
Couples who venture beyond the thrill of impermanent passion have found MDMA effective in enhancing the necessary communication to increase intimacy by making emotions clearer. Instead of bracing yourself for something you might not like to hear, avoiding the need to evaluate the relationship because change is scary, or hiding behind a wall of defenses, MDMA can help soften the sharp edges of truth necessary for growth.
“You have this great, passionate, exploratory sex and then you have conversations after, which are equally important while you’re lying there because the things you say in that state don’t become irrelevant the next day; they become more valid,” says Ontario farmer, Zachary Zeifman, who has used MDMA to enhance his connection with his partners. “When you have that physical touch with someone, you’re more open and empathetic.”
“You have this great, passionate, exploratory sex and then you have conversations after, which are equally important while you’re lying there because the things you say in that state don’t become irrelevant the next day; they become more valid.”
Freidrich Nietzsche once said: “For all joy wants eternity.” To accept joy, one must also accept the inevitable sorrow of its passing. Combining new or enhanced sexual experiences with MDMA, followed by sober sessions that integrate memories and lessons from that state of heightened desire, might be the key to better sex precisely because it’s something worth reaching for but never fully grasping. Trying to hold onto joy is to feel it acutely slip away. Trying to set up a tent in paradise is paradise lost. Instead, consider MDMA as the ability to venture outward and collect new tools to build a better home.
“If you’re just using MDMA to party three times a week, it might ruin your relationships,” says Zeifman. “But to use it as a way to translate hyper-intense experiences into something tangible and applicable, that won’t ruin a sober experience, it will enhance it because you know what’s possible.”
Nicolle Hodges is a sexual freedom philosopher, journalist, and founder of @girlswhosayfuck—an incubator for ideas and conversation that instigate change—including the feminist project and podcast @menwhotakebaths. Her first book, @theorgasmbook, is available on Amazon.