The first time I ever tripped, a couple of friends and I split a bag of mushrooms at Venice Beach. It was early January, and even in southern California, it was chilly. "I'm shivering, but it's not me," an 18-year-old me said through chattering teeth, my consciousness somewhere outside my body. We headed toward the drum circle and plopped down on the shore to watch the sunset. I remember feeling each and every grain of sand sift through my fingers and squish between my toes, as if I were just born and discovering sand for the first time. Everything mundane all of a sudden felt so novel, kissed with a touch of magic.
Boy oh boy, if sand felt this good shrooming, what would sex feel like? To be honest, I've never so far had a trip as good as that first one, and I've never had sex on mushrooms. But I've learned through the years that who you trip with is as important as your state of mind and environment going into the trip. So, call me conservative and excuse my Yiddish, but who you shtup when you shroom is serious business that should be a carefully made decision.
That said, as life tends to go, not everything is always so planned out—at least not for the various people I interviewed for this story. From the longterm couple who got engaged just a few months after psychedelic sex inside a tiny tent on a rainy camping trip (one of them says the visuals were best during climax) to the pair traveling in Thailand who shroomed and had sex within 17 hours of meeting each other, everyone has a different tolerance for when, where, and with whom they can trip (and hook up with). One source, calls sex on mushrooms "transcendent," but advised caution: "It can make you fall in love before you're ready."
"Sex, like everything else on psychedelics, is amplified," says Neal Goldsmith, a New York-based psychologist and author of Psychedelic Healing. "Psychedelics enhance what's already there, they put you in touch with reality with greater clarity and intensity than you generally experience." Because, he says, "sex is so different than everyday walking life, such as going to the grocery story," or making sandcastles for that matter, sex on psychedelics could also be very "emotional, visceral, hormonal, or psychological."
"You never know what's coming your way when you're tripping," Goldsmith adds. "That's part of tripping in general—surrendering, being open, having an accepting, philosophical attitude toward the events that might come your way." One minute, you'll be in total bliss, and the next, even something miniscule could turn your whole trip around.
"Nuances of voice or facial expression might set you off in a way that they wouldn't if you weren't in an enhanced state of consciousness or perception. Of course, that can be a very positive thing, too" he says. Even so, for novices planning to have psychedelic sex, Goldsmith says it might be better to do it "after you've peaked, once things have calmed down a bit."
And ideally, you'd do it with someone you trust. Take these two of the many pairs I interviewed: the first a couple, the second a casual hookup. Both sets of partners ended up on different wavelengths. In the couple, the woman had the "experience of a lifetime," and her partner was so anxious that he had a bad trip. Yet both say it made the relationship stronger.
The casuals, on the other hand, had less of a foundation over which to bond and work things out. "I was going down on her for a while, hard to say exactly how long because I was tripping...and suddenly she started bugging that I would suck her clit into my mouth and not let it out," one of them, who wishes remain anonymous because drug use would put them at risk of losing their job, tells me. "It seemed like something triggered all these bad emotions with an ex who had been very rough and not responsive to her saying she didn't want it so rough."
Psychedelics can be a powerful tool for digging up trauma, depression, or anxiety, and hopefully working through it. Depending on the dose, that deep dive inside your psyche can be very revealing, but it's important you have the tools to handle that level of subconscious truth. Unless you're in a controlled setting, with a trained guide or someone you trust, the lower your chances of healing from deep-seated trauma.
Classical psychedelics like acid or mushrooms enhance your sense of touch and are valuable tools for introspection. Substances like MDMA, on the other hand, are less variable and can facilitate positive connection with another person. Known more colloquially as "Molly," MDMA promotes the release of oxytocin and prolactin, hormones associated with trust and bonding, which helps psychedelic-assisted therapy patients openly discuss painful memories, says Brad Burge, director of strategic communications for the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies. It also reduces activity in the amygdala, which regulates fear and is overactive in people with PTSD.
MDMA can also help a person who's suffered from sexual trauma overcome the pain of their experience, and ultimately engage in safe, consensual, and enjoyable sex. But even MDMA can be make sex difficult in lay use, Goldsmith says, as it tends to be useful less for sexual arousal, and more as a "hug drug." Burge says that there are no measures of sexual satisfaction in his trials, so that element remains a mystery to him as well.
While other psychedelics could have the same potential as MDMA, in lay settings, it seems they're used less often for sexual arousal—they could put an unwanted spotlight on past trauma. "Although both have a time and place, in general, I would prefer to work on sexual issues or PTSD with MDMA than with LSD," Goldsmith says.
This is not necessarily a new idea: As the late psychologist and ex-Harvard professor Timothy Leary put it in a 1966 Playboy interview, "LSD is the most powerful aphrodisiac ever discovered by man." Goldsmith adds that, while mushrooms tend to be a little more "down to earth and physical," acid is a little more "clinical, high contrast spotlight." While it's a matter of personal preference, for this reason, some may choose to have sex on mushrooms rather than LSD.
Ben Lawson, a "tantric counselor" from Los Angeles, advocates for ceremonial sexual healing with mushroom medicine and frequently incorporates psychedelics into his sex life. In his experience, psychedelics help people achieve a "silent mind." He advises starting out very slow with small incremental amounts, adding that having sex outside, while on shrooms, can enhance the overall experience.
But that's not to say there's no risk involved—intention is as vital to your safety as setting is, whether you're aiming to heal from sexual trauma or to connect with a loved one. Lawson even suggests having a third party present, so the person working through trauma or any sexual holdups can feel safe. With the right tools and intention, sex on psychedelics can be quite healing. "It's not just fucking to get off, [or] just racing to orgasm," he says.
Read This Next: Magic Mushrooms Could Be the Future of Antidepressants