Using drugs to enhance one’s libido or sexual performance is nothing new, but there are certainly more options today than ever before. This includes prescription drugs (e.g., Viagra for erectile dysfunction and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for premature ejaculation), as well as recreational drugs (e.g., crystal meth for heightening arousal and amyl nitrate/“poppers” for enhancing the experience of anal sex). Surprisingly little research exists regarding the prevalence of “medicated sex,” not to mention who does it and the factors associated with it; however, a new study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections provides some revealing insight.
In this study, researchers examined data from the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3), a large probability survey sample from Britain (see here for a look at other findings from this study). In total, 6,293 men and 8,869 women ranging in age from 16 to 74 were surveyed between 2010-2012.
As part of this survey, participants who reported having had sex before were asked the following question: “have you ever taken any type of medicine or pills to assist your sexual performance, for example Viagra? Include medication that has not been prescribed by a doctor.” Participants were asked whether they had ever done this, as well as whether they had done it in the past year.
Results revealed that medicated sex was far more prevalent among men (12.9%) than it was among women (1.9%). It is perhaps not surprising that men were so much more likely to report medicated sex than women, given that there are currently far more pharmaceutical options available for treating sexual performance difficulties in men.
Medicated sex was strongly related to age, although the pattern was different for men compared to women. Among men aged 16-34, 9.2% reported having had medicated sex; in contrast, for men aged 55-74, the number was more than twice as high (18.9%). In contrast, medicated sex was more common among younger women (3.1%) than it was among older women (1.2%).
Beyond age, medicated sex was related to several other variables in both men and women, including cigarette smoking, greater alcohol consumption, lower sexual functioning, more sexual partners, more unprotected sex, as well as having had sexual experience with someone of the same sex.
The researchers also found that, in the past year, 7.2% of men reported medicated sex. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was frequently reported by men who indicated having erectile dysfunction (of whom 28.4% reported medicated sex); however, about half of all men reporting medicated sex did not have ED, which means that ED is far from the only motivating factor here.
Although these results are certainly intriguing, they are limited in that participants were not asked which specific medications/drugs they used and whether the drugs were prescribed or not. The wording of the question (i.e., “medicine or pills”) may have also biased responses away from reports of recreational drugs, which means these numbers may underestimate how many people use drugs of any kind to enhance their sexual performance. We also do not know whether the associations found with medicated sex are causes or effects (e.g., does medicated sex promote risky sexual behavior, or are people who are already prone to risky sexual behavior more likely to attempt medicated sex?).
Although more research (including work in other cultural contexts) is needed, this study provides an important glimpse into the world of medicated sex and reveals that it is probably more common than previously thought.
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To learn more about this research, see: Mitchell, K.R. et al. (2015). Medicated sex in Britain: evidence from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Sexually Transmitted Infections. doi:10.1136/sextrans-2015-052094
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