This week, researchers at Imperial College London did us a massive favor by releasing their findings (that magic mushrooms, LSD, and other psychoactive substances may improve sexual function in the long-term) just before Valentine’s Day! Thus, kindly giving us the time to get together our magic truffle order, or harvest our shrooms, ready for the most romantic day of the year. 

These findings, published in Nature Scientific Reports, are the first of their kind in that this is the first time the effects of psychedelics on sex have been properly studied. They are also extremely exciting — the participants reported improvements across a range of measures, for several weeks after an acute psychedelic experience. 

How To Study Sex and Psychedelics

So how did this sexy study go down? Well, researchers from the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London collected questionnaire answers from nearly 300 people before and after a psychedelic experience. 

They combined the responses from two groups. The first group consisted of people taking psychedelics for recreational or wellness/spiritual purposes. The second was a smaller group, made up of those who had taken part in a clinical trial assessing psilocybin as a treatment for depression. Between these two groups they were able to investigate how the experience affected a range of criteria relating to sexual function.  

Improvements in Sexual Arousal, Attraction, Connection, Self Esteem & More

The analysis of the findings found that on average, people noticed improvements across a range of areas of sexual function. These results lasted up to 6 months after their psychedelic experience. The criteria included sexual arousal, enjoyment of sex, satisfaction with sex, attraction to their partner, communication, sense of connection, and satisfaction with their own physical appearance. 

Tommaso Barba first author and PhD student in the Centre for Psychedelic Research stated;

“We believe this is the first scientific study to explore the effects of psychedelics on sexual functioning. Our findings suggest potential implications for conditions that negatively affect sexual health, including clinical depression and anxiety.” 

The research team flagged that these findings open a range of therapeutic applications, such as couples therapy. 

Traditional Antidepressants Reduce Sexual Function

Fascinatingly, the researchers found that in the smaller group (who were taking psilocybin in the depression trial) almost half of the participants reported improvements in sexual arousal, interest and satisfaction with sex. This was a direct contrast to those being treated with a leading pharmaceutical antidepressant, who mostly noticed a decrease in sexual function. 

Sexual dysfunction is an ongoing issue for those who take traditional antidepressants, with many people having to choose between their mental health and their sexual desire. This study suggests that with psilocybin and other psychedelics, this sacrifice may no longer need to be made.

Barba said;

“We believe this is the first scientific study to explore the effects of psychedelics on sexual functioning.

Our findings suggest potential implications for conditions that negatively affect sexual health, including clinical depression and anxiety.

This is particularly significant given that sexual dysfunction, often induced by antidepressants, frequently results in people stopping these medications and subsequently relapsing.”

Sex is a Key Part of Human Identity

And though, even today, we may feel shy or embarrassed to talk about it, sex and desire are a fundamental part of human identity, and how we construct our sense of self. For a long time, those who suffer from mental health conditions have had to sacrifice this for the numbing blanket of antidepressants. However, to heal a person holistically, all aspects of the self must be considered. And, this must include sexual identity. Barba explained;

“On the surface, this type of research may seem ‘quirky’, but the psychological aspects of sexual function – including how we think about our own bodies, our attraction to our partners, and our ability to connect to people intimately – are all important to psychological wellbeing in sexually active adults.

…Sexuality is a fundamental human drive. For example, we know that sexual dysfunction is linked to lower well-being in healthy adults, can impact relationship satisfaction, and is even linked to subjective happiness and ‘meaning in life’.”

A Fresh Approach

Previously, senior author on the paper Bruna Girlbaldi explained, all research on depression treatment and sex had focused on whether the medicine causes sexual dysfunction. Girlbaldi explained this new approach;

“We wanted to make sure we went deeper than that and explored more aspects of sexuality that could be impacted by these treatments. We were interested in finding out whether psychedelics could influence people’s experiences of sexuality in a positive way, as it appeared from existing anecdotal evidence.

…Sexual side effects are often underreported in clinical trials, as people tend to not directly report them unless explicitly asked. Aware of this, we were determined to thoroughly investigate this area.”

Before and After

Researchers combined the responses to questionnaires from each of the participants across the two groups. The responses were from before the psychedelic experience, four weeks after, and then 6 months after. 

The larger group, who were planning to take psychedelics for recreational or ceremonial reasons provided their first answers via an online survey before their experience. The substances these 261 people took included psilocybin (from magic mushrooms or truffles), LSD, DMT, ayahuasca, and San Pedro. They then answered the online survey twice after the experience. The most significant improvements noted by this group were in sexual pleasure, satisfaction and communication with their partner, satisfaction with their own appearance, as well as the outlook that sex is a ‘spiritual experience’. 

The second, smaller group, were part of a study led by Professor Robin Carhart-Harris. Of the 59 people in the clinical trial 30 people were given psilocybin and 29 were given escitalopram (a type of SSRI antidepressant). The individuals given psilocybin were more likely to report improvements across all areas of sexual function at the end of the trial. The most significant improvements reported were in sexual arousal, interest, and satisfaction and communication with their partner.  

The patients treated with escitalopram tended to report decreases across all areas except satisfaction with their own appearance, which improved similarly to the psilocybin group. 

Transforming Perceptions

A key note from the authors of the study, was that neither of the groups indicated a significant change in the individual’s perceived importance of sex after a psychedelic experience. Basically, they didn’t turn into sex-obsessed horndogs or, (to use the scientific jargon) experience “hyper-arousal”. Instead, it seems psychedelics may transform how a person perceives and relates to sexual experiences. This is then likely to lead to an overall improvement in sexual wellbeing.  

Tommaso Barba, added: “It’s important to stress our work does not focus on what happens to sexual functioning while people are on psychedelics, and we are not talking about perceived ‘sexual performance’, but it does indicate there may be a lasting positive impact on sexual functioning after their psychedelic experience, which could potentially have impacts on psychological wellbeing.”

Let Psychedelics Help You Connect this Valentine’s Day

Psychedelics are not a love potion — nor do they transform you into some kind of Casanova. Rather they are all about connection, and enhancing what is already inside you. Being open and connected to the sexual realms of your ‘self’ is good for your own wellbeing, as well as your partner(s). Deepening your connection to your partner emotionally, spiritually, and physically is the way to make sure your love goes the distance. It could be the Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter of Love if you care for it.

This Valentine’s Day it is not a plastic rose that is going to enhance your relationship. It could, in fact, be the magic of mushrooms