A Qualitative Investigation Comparing Psychosocial and Physical Sexual Experiences Related to Alcohol and Marijuana Use among Adults
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Alcohol and marijuana are two of the most prevalent psychoactive substances and each may result in distinct psychosocial and physical sexual experiences and different sexual risk behaviors. With marijuana becoming more accepted in the US along with more liberal state-level policies, it is important to examine and compare users’ psychosocial and physical sexual experiences and sexual risk behavior associated with these drugs. In this study, we interviewed 24 adults who recently used marijuana before sex. Participants were 50 % female and all self-identified as heterosexual and HIV-negative. Using thematic analysis, we compared self-reported psychosocial and physical sexual experiences of alcohol and marijuana. Participants described differences between drugs with regard to psychosocial (e.g., partner interactions and contexts before sex, partner choice, perceived attractiveness of self and others, disinhibition, and feelings of regret after sex) and physical sexual experiences (e.g., sexual dysfunction, dose effects, sensations of body/sex organs, length and intensity of sex, and orgasm). Alcohol use was commonly associated with social outgoingness and use facilitated connections with potential sexual partners; however, alcohol was more likely than marijuana to lead to atypical partner choice or post-sex regret. Both alcohol and marijuana had a variety of negative sexual effects, and the illegality of marijuana reportedly facilitated intimate encounters. While sexual experiences tended to be similar across males and females, we did find some variation by gender. Results can inform prevention and harm reduction programming that will allow us to design more realistic programs and to craft interventions, which guide potential users to make safer choices.