When things go awry between the sheets, it’s tempting to turn to self-help books, magazines with headlines like “10 Ways to Improve Your Sex Life” or even a licensed therapists for insight.
San Francisco sexologist Diana Urman is among the few to openly suggest a little something else that can quiet the anxieties and self-consciousness that interfere with sexual pleasure: cannabis.
Urman, a native of Ukraine, worked as a teacher and financial analyst before becoming a licensed therapist, and opened her private practice in 2016. Legalized recreational cannabis is a new tool in her kit that she believes will help patients increase feelings of sexual liberty. Urman talked about cannabis and sex with GreenState from her Fillmore Street office. This interview has been edited for length.
GreenState: Your website states that sexual pleasure is an important part of a healthy human life. Why? Some people think sex is for procreation and that’s all they want to hear about it.
Urman: I view sexuality as a form of human expression, and so if we are repressed sexually, we’re not fulfilled as humans. The more we can express ourselves, sexually, the more we can free ourselves from repression.
You’re on the leading edge as one of the few sexologists around who recommends cannabis to some of your patients. I’m sure there are lots of techniques and talk therapies for helping people with relationship and intimacy problems. But how is cannabis different, and how is it helpful?
Cannabis has been legalized, so that’s a great thing. I don’t have to worry about finding an underground operation. And cannabis is a natural product . . . it’s hard to overdose on. Of course you can get more stoned, but the side effects are not as big. And also, it’s sort of blends well with natural flow of pleasure and using cannabis it’s been historically proven to be a great aphrodisiac and enhancer of pleasure.
For people who have never tried cannabis and wonder how it helps, can you talk about the problems patients had and how cannabis helped them?
I have quite a few clients, female clients, that are anorgasmic. They have issues with either experiencing orgasm or the orgasm is not as frequent or the quality of pleasure is not up to their liking. Many of my clients experience symptoms of anxiety and that is an underlying cause for anorgasmia. Using cannabis can allow a person to kind of descend into their bodies and feel more present in themselves, and focus more on their body sensations and feel more at ease — and as a result, their orgasm is much more probable. I have several cases where I ask my clients to use Foria that is being sold in dispensaries. It’s applied on the clitoris and relaxes the muscles in that area. So it’s very, very subtle, but most people don’t need a lot to get what they want to get. So it’s been very helpful for my clients.
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Is it mostly women, or are men also benefiting?
I tend to mostly serve female clients. I do have quite a few male clients that have similar issues with not being able to reach orgasm, or problems with ejaculation, and most of my clients’ age is anywhere from 35 to 40 to 50 at the most. And they’re doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, various walks of life.
What kind of anxiety do people have? Is it like, “I’m going to try it and (orgasm’s) not going to happen,” or is it anxiety from their daily life?
Mainly anxieties regarding their sexual performance. And their inability to stay present and get out of their heads while being sexual. The anxieties that my clients are experiencing are mainly coming from their inability to feel relaxed in their body and be fully relaxed and present while being sexually engaged. And that prevents them from being able to orgasm or ejaculate or experience pleasure to the full capacity.
We’ve come a long way from when cannabis use meant you rolled a joint. Are you recommending vaporizers or edibles or tinctures along with the spray?
I would say yes, whatever helps to get out of their heads and be fully relaxed and enjoy themselves. And since I’m not familiar dispensary products, I cannot be more specific. And it’s also very individual from person to person, using certain types of cannabis. Whatever pleases them and relaxes their bodies and makes them feel more present and focused on their bodies would be great addition to Foria’s spray that I had mentioned.
In California, cannabis has been legal for medical reasons for a very long time, and more recently, the legal use of marijuana for recreational was just passed. Are your patients still feeling any stigmas about using cannabis?
That’s a great question. With most of my clients, I feel a lot of them want to get permission to be who they are — and that’s why they come to my office and see me. I’ve not experienced a lot of stigma in people’s belief system regarding cannabis. Most people I know are open and have been using cannabis on various occasions, but have not been able to connect the dots and create a picture of what it’s like to use it in sexual encounters, as a sexual enhancement .
A Stanford University study found that people who smoked cannabis daily had more sex than those who smoked little or not at all. It also found that marijuana use did not impair sexual function in men, contrary to previous studies that suggested it did. Another study suggested that cannabis’ active ingredient (THC) which causes euphoria stimulates a part of the brain that turns your desires into action. Are you finding this research is helping you with your patients?
I don’t think I need to convince my clients. I think that by crossing my threshold, they’re already convinced that whatever I can offer to them is something they’re comfortable taking. I always tell them that we’re going try a new pair of shoes. If you like it, great. If you don’t, just put it away. So they don’t feel like they’re married to the idea. And so I don’t believe I need to quote a lot of science for them. But it is very helpful, of course. It brings more validity and makes the case more relevant. But as I said, it’s about internal permission.
For the people who may be trying cannabis for the first time, this is all going to be probably exciting and novel and experimental. On the other side of the coin, are there any problems associated with long-term use of cannabis and sex?
I have several clients who’ve been using cannabis for decades and there’s definitely some trends that they reported to me. After a while, they’re no longer interested in engaging themselves sexually, and I think that has something to do with the brain’s capacity to feel overstimulated. Because with sexual desire, our brains are the main sexual organs, especially when it comes to female-bodied people. So I feel that has to do with the brain rather than genitals. Overuse of cannabis can kind of dull out their brain activities. So sexual fantasies are no longer available or might not be available to people and as a result, their sexual desire may not be as prevalent or as expressed, in them.
I almost forgot to ask: Do you use cannabis yourself?
That’s a great question. I love answering questions like that because it brings my personality into my professional life. I have used cannabis, not once, but pretty frequently, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experiences, yes.
In a way it makes sense — if you didn’t try it yourself, you couldn’t tell people about what the benefits of using it would be.
Yes, everything I recommend to my clients, I personally use. That is my golden rule.