The Beginner’s Guide to CBD and Sex: Libido, Orgasms and Hormones
Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, seems to be the coolest thing since sliced bread. Because of the nationwide legalization of hemp-derived CBD, brands old and new have been coming out of the woodwork with CBD-infused skincare, body oils, tinctures, edibles, suppositories, drinks and more.
In the sexual wellness industry, CBD has been touted as a magical cure-all product that can improve your sex life exponentially. In reality, CBD is only a supporting actor that contributes to holistic sexual wellness. Nonetheless, CBD still deserves that Oscar for all the ways that it can support your sexual health.
If you’ve always been curious whether or not to keep CBD products on your nightstand, here’s the 411. (Spoiler alert: CBD is “fetch,” as Gretchen Weiners would say.)
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In this article
CBD works with the endocannabinoid system to reduce inflammatory pain, improve brain function, lower cortisol levels and relieve muscle tension.
For people with vaginas, CBD’s sexual benefits include increased lubrication, heightened arousal, and pain relief for those who experience painful sex.
For people with penises, CBD may help with erectile dysfunction by increasing blood flow, allowing the penis to stay erect for longer.
Ready to boost your sex drive?
Take our quiz to build a bespoke testing plan that will help you boost your libido.
So what is CBD?
CBD is derived from the controversial plant Cannabis sativa. As many of us learned from that first high school party bong rip, different strains of cannabis can induce a relaxed high, courtesy of CBD’s naughty cousin Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the psychoactive chemical compound that locks you to your couch to count pink hallucinatory clouds when you smoke weed.
A common question when people pick up CBD products: Will this get me high? The answer is no. CBD products derived from cannabis plants may contain a small amount of THC, but usually not enough to get you high. A small percentage of THC won’t affect you, plus it’s the ratio between THC and CBD in a product that really matters.
CBD counteracts the loopy high that THC gives you. So if a product had a 250mg of CBD and 250mg of THC (a 1:1 ratio), the psychoactive effects of THC are kept in check by that amount of CBD — all while still giving you the pain-relieving, muscle-relaxing, anxiety-relieving effects of both cannabinoids. Most CBD products contain amounts of CBD that vastly outweigh the minimal THC content.
You’ll also want to look out for CBD that’s derived from hemp instead of cannabis. Hemp naturally contains little to no traces of THC, meaning it won’t get you high at all. In most states, CBD is legal as long as it’s derived from hemp. Each state has different product testing requirements, which you can find on Leafly’s State-by-State CBD Guide.
How does CBD work?
CBD and THC are both cannabinoids that interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. Think of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) as a traffic system that regulates homeostasis. Inside the ECS, there are receptors, enzymes and naturally occurring endocannabinoids that act as traffic signals or stop signs to facilitate neural communication between the brain and the body.
Naturally occurring endocannabinoids affect the body’s energy balance, appetite stimulation, blood pressure, memory, learning and pain receptivity. When we’re stressed, depressed or anxious, a few traffic signals in the ECS might be out of order, causing energy crashes, appetite imbalance, high blood pressure, brain fog and inflammatory pain. When CBD enters the body, it mimics the naturally occurring endocannabinoids and swoops in to get those traffic signals working at their normal — or sometimes, even faster — pace.
What are the benefits of CBD?
The benefits of CBD products are generally determined by the terpenes the brand uses for flavor. Terpenes are the chemical compounds in plants that give it its smell and flavor. The terpene limonene, for example, is naturally found in citrus fruits like lemons and oranges. Combined with a CBD oil, limonene gives the body an uplifting, energizing effect.
Here’s How CBD Can Dramatically Improve Your Sex Life
Experts say pain relief, lowered stress levels, balanced hormones, and increased blood flow are going to amp things up in the bedroom.
There’s CBD in your deodorant, your serum, and your toothpaste. Your grandma’s using it for her arthritis. Even IKEA put CBD in meatballs (ew, but OK). The “green boom” and legalization of cannabis across many states has resulted in the normalization of hemp-based supplements and with the mainstream embracing CBD. (Maybe you even have some in your medicine cabinet right now.)
Chances are, you’ve also seen an explosion of CBD topicals (lubricants, creams, gels, and suppositories) and ingestibles (capsules, gummies, and tinctures/oils) geared towards boosting your sex life and sexual wellness.
As it turns out, there are a number of applications cannabidiol can have in the bedroom, from managing your hormones to alleviating pain, and even to increase your libido (so… buckle up).
A disclaimer: After almost 100 years of everything cannabis-related being off-limits, there’s not a ton of human research to back up CBD’s medical claims. One reason? “CBD is still considered a Schedule 1 drug on the Controlled Substance Act and as such, researchers and scientists are prohibited in doing studies,” says Bonni Goldstein, M.D., medical advisor to Weedmaps, a site that connects cannabis consumers, patients, retailers, doctors, and brands. So although anecdotal evidence has swelled like a tsunami (a survey from Remedy Review reported 68 percent of people said CBD improved their sex life), we’re still (eagerly) waiting for clinical backup.
Ahead, a look at what we do know about CBD’s ability to boost libido, enhance orgasm, foster intimacy, and more.
Pain, Be Gone
One of the best-known uses of CBD is as an analgesic — it’s used to relieve pain. And this is a big deal for many women when it comes to sex. Dyspareunia (a blanket term for disorders leading to painful sex) is a barrier that keeps upwards of 40% of women from enjoying — or even experiencing — intimacy and experiencing pleasure, according to some estimates.
There are a number of ways topical CBD can help, explains Colleen Gerson, a functional medicine coach and herbalist at Foria, a CBD sexual wellness brand. Lubricants and suppositories can “enhance pleasure and libido by increasing blood flow, which increases lubrication and sensation, relaxing smooth muscle tissue, and easing tension,” Gerson explains.
This probably comes down to CBD’s well-known anti-inflammatory properties and ability to relax the muscles (less pain, inflammation, and tension would all contribute toward alleviating dyspareunia).
Citing six years of feedback from the Foria customer base, the anecdotal evidence for this use is astounding, Gerson says. (Seriously, read the reviews. Claims include it “saved my marriage”.) What’s more, in a 2019 survey conducted by Remedy Review of over 500 adults, 98 percent of those surveyed said CBD helped alleviate pain during sex.
Achieving Orgasm, Starring CBD
If the big O has been slightly out of reach (or less than satisfying), enter: cannabis. A 2019 review paper showed cannabis led to longer, more satisfying orgasms.
How? CBD can increase blood flow to tissues and improve nerve sensation, both of which can help make sex more pleasurable while intensifying an orgasm.
“There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the direct application of CBD-infused lubricants to the genitalia increases blood flow to the area,” explains Robert Flannery, Ph.D. of Dr. Robb Farms. “An increase of blood flow to female genitalia has shown to increase sexual arousal and the intensity of orgasms. Both very good things.”
Less Stress, More Libido
When you’re stressed or anxious, sex is probably the farthest thing on your mind. Science confirms this, too — studies have shown that the stress hormone cortisol can lower your libido.
“It has been widely studied and shown that anxiety — both general and specific to sexual performance — limits a woman’s sexual arousal,” Dr. Flannery says. One of the biggest ways CBD consumption can help a woman’s sex life, especially for those suffering from sexual performance anxiety, is its ability to reduce anxiety (by triggering the serotonin receptor), he explains.
“By reducing cortisol and activating the PNS (parasympathetic nervous system), we’re going to drop into a more restful, receptive, sensually supportive capacity of the body,” adds Gerson. So if anxiety is getting in the way of your eh… extracurricular activities, consider CBD’s anxiolytic benefits as a potential solution.
Of note: this may just apply to women. One study showed that cannabinoids could potentially lower a man’s sex drive, though this particular study looked at marijuana (aka, all the cannabinoids, including THC), not just isolated CBD.
Balancing Hormone Levels = Higher Drive
CBD could potentially help your body balance hormone levels, which can increase sex drive. “The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) works overall to maintain homeostasis in the body, to regulate systems and organ function towards balance and harmony,” said Gerson. “So CBD’s relationship with our hormones and reproductive health is likely multifaceted, as ultimately a balanced body is fertile and vital (in it’s reproductive years).” She called hemp an “ally to hormone balance.”
This also comes down to how it (purportedly) helps the body deal with stress. In theory, if you manage bodily stress, your hormones will recalibrate as well. “While CBD can support some of the symptoms of hormone imbalance like pain, anxiety, or insomnia, it can also support via a key underlying root, stress,” says Gerson.
And FYI, if you’re open to it (and in a state where it’s legal), you might want to try THC, too, which may have an even greater impact than CBD to turn up the heat, Gerson adds.
Emotional Intimacy, Initiated
There’s another way CBD can improve your sex life: It can provide for a deeper emotional connection during intimacy.
Here’s how: “CBD increases the serum concentration of an endocannabinoid neurotransmitter called anandamide, which is closely associated with oxytocin, known as the ‘cuddle chemical,’ ‘hug hormone,’ ‘love hormone,’ or ‘moral molecule,’” Dr. Flannery explains. “Research has shown that an increase in anandamide during social contact, including a sexual experience, increases the pleasure of said contact.”
“The etymology of the word ‘anandamide’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘ananda,’ which translates to ‘joy, bliss, delight,’” he adds (sounds very kama sutra-esque). “This might give some insight as to what it can do.”
I Took CBD Oil Every Day for My Anxiety—Here’s What Went Down
Dana Myers, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and life coach based in Philadelphia. She has a special interest in how race, sex, gender, ethnicity, social status and competencies impact those in marginalized communities and aims to help her clients find purpose and peace in life.
Michelle Regalado is a seasoned editor, fact-checker, and content strategist with expertise in women’s lifestyle news.
When I first learned about CBD oil, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical. My mind immediately turned to weed and the unnerving experiences I’d had with heightened anxiety in college. For me, a person who’s already predisposed to overthinking, marijuana, no matter what the form, would typically put my mind into overdrive and result in a common yet dreaded side effect: Paranoia. But, let’s back up a bit. What even is CBD?
What is CBD?
A bit of online digging led me to realize that the active ingredient in Charlotte’s Web Everyday Plus Hemp Oil, the product I’d been offered to test, was the chemical compound CBD, which stands for cannabidiol. Unlike THC, the other crucial compound in hemp and marijuana plants, CBD (when derived from the hemp plant) does not produce the psychoactive effects that make you feel “high”; instead, emerging science has hinted that CBD may actually ease anxiety, and therefore, makes you less likely to freak out.
For example, one study comparing the effects of THC and CBD found that, while THC increased anxiety by activating the neurotransmitters involved in the “fight or flight” response, CBD actually repressed autonomic arousal—or the nervous system response associated with sudden increases in heart rate or respiration. In other words, CBD may be ideal for people looking to relax and unwind.
While the science behind CBD’s effectiveness for treating anxiety, pain, and insomnia is still in its infancy, Charlotte Figi’s inspiring story sounds promising. Figi, a 6-year-old girl diagnosed with a rare and resistant form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, was placed on hospice care and given a “do not resuscitate” order when her parents, desperate and frustrated with pharmaceutical medication, considered medical marijuana; specifically, a strain low in THC and high in CBD. Charlotte is now nearly seizure-free since she began supplementing with Charlotte Web’s CBD oil, which the brand named after Figi.
Legal and Safety Things To Know About CBD
The current CBD industry is like the internet’s early years. the Wild West. Legally, speaking, a Harvard Medical School blog post reads, “All 50 states have laws legalizing CBD with varying degrees of restriction, and while the federal government still considers CBD in the same class as marijuana, it doesn’t habitually enforce against it.” With heightened interest around CBD, it’s important to note that because CBD is currently unregulated, it’s difficult to know what you’re getting (whether that’s a tincture—commonly referred to as CBD oil, which is often combined with a carrier oil like coconut oil—topical products like creams and balms, sprays, or capsules), despite product labels and brand promises, the blog post further reads. It’s also important to note that people experience CBD differently. For the most part, the National Institute of Medicine says that while most people can tolerate CBD, side effects do exist. They might include dry mouth, drowsiness, and reduced appetite, among others.
That said, those interested in exploring the potential benefits of CBD should consult with their doctor (especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or currently taking medication) and be mindful of your dosage, writes Consumer Reports. And before you buy, Megan Villa, co-founder of the hemp-focused website and shop Svn Space, told Shape magazine to seek out a certificate of analysis. “Ask for a COA for the batch number of the product you have, since these products are made in batches,” she said. “You need to match the batch number to the COA that pertains to it.” Then, scan the report for potency (i.e. does the number of milligrams of CBD that the product label touts match the lab report?), contaminants and pesticides, and mold (which should live under the “Microbiological Testing” part of the report). Go a step further and note whether the testing lab is GMP (Good Manufacturing Principles) certified, and whether the lab is registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Shape magazine also suggests purchasing CBD products made from domestically-grown hemp, and reading up on the difference between full- and broad-spectrum and CBD isolate.
With that, I threw caution to the wind and asked for a sample. Here’s what happened—including what it feels like—when I took one full dropper of Charlotte’s Web’s Everyday Plus Hemp Oil in the mint chocolate flavor every morning for seven days.
My First Impression
It was actually a bad bout of jet lag after a trip to California that inspired me to finally test out the CBD oil (I’ll admit that my weed-based reservations kept me from trying it for the first few months). Knowing that the oil had also helped people with sleep issues, I squeezed one full dropper of the Everyday Plus oil onto my tongue, per the instructions, and waited.
Thirty minutes later, I was surprised by how subtle the effect was. While I expected a hazy nodding-off effect similar to melatonin’s, the oil simply relaxed my body ever so slightly—my heart stopped pounding against my chest, my legs stopped kicking beneath my sheets, my mind stopped racing. I wasn’t sure if it was the oil or the late hour, but eventually, physical relaxation gave way to mental relaxation, and I drifted off to sleep.
Reflecting the next morning, I was most surprised by the fact that I never felt “high” in any way—there was never a moment of It’s kicking in; I can feel it now like with pain medications or even anti-anxiety drugs. Considering it takes time, consistency, and the right dosage to experience the full effect, I continued taking the oil once a day for the next six days. Here’s what went down.
It Made Me Less Anxious and Edgy
Rather than overthinking a sternly worded email or analyzing a social interaction, I found it easier to recognize the irrationality of these thoughts and actually let them go.
While normally I’d be slightly tripped up by little things like an overly crowded subway car or a full inbox at work, the CBD oil seems to have taken the edge off of my anxiety a bit. Rather than overthinking a sternly worded email or analyzing a social interaction, I found it easier to recognize the irrationality of these thoughts and actually let them go. In some ways, I feel more like myself. With that said, I’ve still experienced some social anxiety when meeting new groups of people—I’d be interested to see what taking the full recommended dose would do.
I’m More Focused At Work
I work well under pressure, but being extremely busy at work has almost made me less productive—I’m constantly distracted by email, Slack, and the people around me, to the point where getting my work done becomes difficult. This week, however, I’ve found it easier to put my blinders on, block out all distractions (especially social distractions), and focus on one task at a time. I think this is partly related to the lessened anxiety—I feel more frazzled and off task when my anxiety is running high. It almost feels like a newfound sense of clarity and calm that enables me to focus.
I’m Falling Asleep Faster
I assume this is also a side effect of feeling less anxious, but I seem to fall asleep faster; within the 20-30-minute range rather than my normal 45 minutes to one hour (or longer). Not only do I seem to be skipping or at least shortening the whole tossing-and-turning phase of my sleep cycle, but I’m able to snap out of the overthinking that often keeps me up at night. Of course, there’s no telling whether a big life event would disrupt this newfound bliss, but I’d like to think it’s helped on a day-to-day basis.
My Experience With CBD
Would I say that CBD oil has fundamentally changed my life? No. But per the Charlotte’s Web website, this is the typical first experience. “Anyone who has ever started a new vitamin or supplement routine knows the short answer to how long it takes to kick in is—’it depends.’ For many newcomers, they’re not sure what to imagine, or some anticipate a huge change right away. For most of us, though, dietary supplements take time.”
With that said, I’m definitely intrigued enough by the subtle effects to continue taking the oil and to possibly up the dosage to the recommended two full droppers of the 30mL bottle per day. Plus, I take comfort in knowing that it’s an all-natural product that’s responsibly grown on family farms in Colorado. Something that’s safe, legal, requires no prescription, and makes me less anxious, less scatterbrained, and more focused? I’m definitely on board.
Explore the World of CBD
Looking to learn more about CBD? These are some of my favorite products to help get you started.
For those new to CBD, Charlotte’s Web recommends this hemp oil. Containing 17mg of CBD per 1mL serving, this CBD oil is also U.S. Hemp Authority Certified. Choose from four different flavors including Lemon Twist, Mint Chocolate, Orange Blossom, and Olive Oil.
Go deep on the subject of CBD with this book that includes case studies, interviews with doctors, an overview of the latest cannabis research, and how scientists are exploring cannabis for various medical uses. There is also an explainer about the difference between CBD products made from industrial hemp versus in a lab, and products made from the whole marijuana plant.
Charlotte’s Web inaugural CBD oil product comes in two flavors; Olive Oil and Mint Chocolate. It’s also its most potent. According to its website, its Original Formula Hemp Extract Oil comes with 50mg CBD per mL.
Gretchen Lidicker puts a lifestyle spin on the world of CBD as the author draws on the “knowledge of leaders in the health and wellness world” to explain why CBD has become a top beauty and wellness trend for top athletes and celebrities. The book also includes recipes and recommendations for how to choose a top-quality CBD product.
This travel-friendly roll-on is packed with CBD and fragrant essential oils, including lavender, bergamot, and chamomile, for an easy de-stress quick fix. The result? “That elusive feeling of wakeful calm,” reads the Sagely Naturals website.
With this book, CBD is explained from A to Z and breaks down the good, bad, and ugly of a fledgling industry that is poised for rapid growth. CBD: 101 Things You Need to Know About CBD Oil covers what it is, why people take it, who it’s for (and who it isn’t for), its myriad forms, and more.
Lord Jones’ High CBD Formula Body Oil combines CBD with organic avocado, jojoba and safflower oils for smooth, hydrated skin. Each bottle has 100mg of CBD.
Charlotte’s Web’s Extra Strength Capsules feature 25 mg of CBD per capsule. The website offers capsules as a convenient and precise way to take CBD—on the go, stash them in your gym bag, pocket, etc.
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Blessing EM, Steenkamp MM, Manzanares J, Marmar CR. Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders. Neurotherapeutics. 2015;12(4):825-836. doi:10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1
Shannon S, Lewis N, Lee H, Hughes S. Cannabidiol in anxiety and sleep: A large case series. Perm J. 2019;23:18-041. doi:10.7812/TPP/18-041