Sometimes social scientists explore matters of significant gravitas—and sometimes they study the differences between drunk sex and high sex. Or more accurately: Which is better?
In a new study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers from New York University recruited 24 adults aged 18 to 35 to talk about sex under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. In order to qualify, participants had to have had sex while high at least once in the last three months. The goal of the study was to see how these particular psychoactive substances lead to risky sexual behavior—you know, to help shape education and public policy.
The research involved interviewing each participant in depth about his or her experiences and looking for recurring patterns or themes. In the end, the researchers walked away with one big takeaway: People tended to regret drunk sex—and regret it waaaaay more than high sex.
While the interviews pretty much confirm what anyone who has ever had drunk sex knows, they also offer a vivid reminder of what can be so easy to forget in the heat of the moment: Drunk sex sounds fun, but in reality, it often kind of sucks.
"When I’m drinking, everybody looks fine to me. Everybody looks good, and then if you wake up with somebody in the morning, then you’ll be like, 'Am I bugging out?'" explained one 34-year-old woman in the study. "With weed I know who I’m waking up with. With drinking, you don’t know. Once you start drinking, everybody looks good."
Another woman, 32, said, "When you’re drunk, it’s more regrets or I-wish-I-didn’t-do that type of thing. Definitely had times where I didn’t use a condom. Pulling-out method, one-nightstands. Just didn’t feel good about that at all."
Another woman, 26, echoed this sentiment, saying, "You might wake up next to someone you never intended on doing anything with them, just because you didn’t have control and you were drinking so much. I was actually, the next day, thinking, what did I do?"
Men expressed regrets, too, of course.
"Oh, so much regret for alcohol," said one 20-year-old man. "Sometimes I hook up with girls I wouldn’t normally have while sober. I feel like weed only enhances the attraction and the connection, but with alcohol, there’s lots of regret. Lots of embarrassment."
Yet more alarming than simply losing attraction to one's sex partner was the study's recurring theme that alcohol blurred the lines of consent. Several male participants said alcohol made them more aggressive than marijuana, and made them pursue sex at any cost.
"It feels like you get a lot more primal [on alcohol]," explained one 27-year-old man. "Like 'I need this,’' and I’m just going to do whatever. But being high—it’s not something like you’re like, 'Oh, I need to go out and get some girls.’"
Another man, 33, said, "Sex being drunk—it’s more aggressive. Sex on alcohol is more like savage sex. I go in with the mind frame of I’m going to hurt this woman. She's going to go home and she's going to tell all her friends." (And the award for creep of the year goes to…)
Meanwhile, many of the women in the study said being drunk made them feel out of control and vulnerable. Ultimately, "the majority of participants felt that alcohol was riskier, sexually, than marijuana," wrote the researchers. "Participants noted that sometimes 'anything goes' (sexually) when they drink and are not worried about potential consequences while in the moment."
This conclusion is notable in part given that recreational marijuana is still illegal in the most of the United States—but alcohol is not.
Of course, the study was a tiny one, based only on anecdotal reports; the authors recommend that larger studies be conducted. And while it's probably unrealistic to advise folks to stop relying on alcohol as a social and sexual lubricant, the interviews do make a strong case for moderation. And weed.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.