Ashley Manta had been helping couples have enjoyable sex for seven years and yet, every time she had intercourse she was confronted with seemingly insurmountable pain.
Then, in 2014, she heard about Foria Pleasure, a new cannabis oil spray designed to enhance sexual pleasure for women. It was transformative.
“I had partnered sex without pain for the first time in years, and I realized there wasn’t anyone talking about the intersection of cannabis and sex,” Manta recalls. “I decided that I wanted that to be my thing.”
Since then, Manta has been at the forefront of the growing conversation around cannabis and sex. She's branded herself as a “cannasexual," speaking on panels about the different ways cannabis can be used to enhance women’s health and advising individuals on how to experiment with cannabis as a tool for intimacy.
Manta says the cannabis and sex industries are currently “really excited about each other,” not because they both sell vices but because of their mutual interest in wellness. The number of female-focused cannabis products — from lubes to topicals for menstrual cramps — has grown exponentially in the last year along with the cannabis industry in California. These products are part of a larger movement in the country to think about every aspect of women’s reproductive and sexual health — from the orgasm to pregnancy — as connected.
“It’s still very taboo to talk about things like your period, birth control or even sex,” says Felicity Yost, co-founder of Tia, a newly launched app that provides women with personalized answers to their sexual health questions. “What we’ve found is that even though doctors might think about these things as being separate, women don’t think about them in that way.”
Cannabis — as one more often unexplored and taboo option for women’s health — is a part of this dialogue. On Saturday, Nov. 4, Cycles + Sex, a company founded to “highlight the interconnectedness of our sexual, menstrual, hormonal and reproductive health,” brought together 600 attendees in downtown Los Angeles for a women-centric gathering featuring events from a demonstration on kegel balls to a panel on the orgasm.
Cycles + Sex co-founder Ashley Spivak says one of the reasons the company decided to make L.A. its second stop (after New York, in April) was because of the city’s booming cannabis industry. Spivak says she personally has found that cannabis makes sex significantly better, allowing her to “feel into her body” instead of getting caught up in her head. It’s helped immensely with her cramps, too.
When women come to Manta for advice on how to use cannabis during sex, she says they’re mostly facing one of three problems: psychological barriers to being present (i.e., stress, anxiety or body shame); physical limitations (i.e., pain from penetration or just chronic pain in the body); or a simple lack of pleasure. Cannabis, she says, has the potential to help in all of these circumstances.
A large study, published last month in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, bolsters this statement. It found that heterosexual men and women who use cannabis have sexual intercourse more often. But, this, of course, leaves out many cannabis users, including most everyone in the LGBTQ community. The companies and experts in the cannabis sex space say there’s just not enough data yet, a consequence of the significant barriers to doing cannabis research in the United States more broadly.
Yost, co-founder of sexual health app Tia, says the two main cannabis-related questions that users ask are whether cannabis impacts the efficacy of birth control and whether cannabis dries up vaginal lubrication. She says, in the absence of studies, Tia's experts merely have to say “not to our knowledge,” while clarifying that that doesn’t mean much.
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Meanwhile, Foria and Hmbldt, the cannabis companies at Cycles + Sex's L.A. event, have been collecting anecdotal reports from their users. In addition to its lube, Foria now has a cannabis-based suppository for menstrual cramps, which Manta, among others, says is a “game-changer.” California-based Hmbldt has six vape pens marketed according to their effects, from “arouse” to “relief.”
Foria founder Mathew Gerson and Hmbldt chief marketing officer Derek McCarty both point out that while the number of FDA-approved clinical trials investigating cannabis might be limited, cannabis has been used as a tool in sexual and reproductive health for millennia. They don’t see what their companies are doing as new but rather as a reintegration of lost knowledge. One of Foria’s goals, while it awaits cannabis reform in the United States and abroad, is to design more products like its CBD spray that can be used in regions where THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, is still banned.
The issue of access to care more generally is a hot topic among the leaders in this burgeoning women’s wellness space. L.A., as a hub for alternative medicines including cannabis, was a natural fit for Cycles + Sex, but what about all the women who learn about these options in California and can’t get ahold of them elsewhere? As Manta says, “Anyone can smoke a joint and get laid,” but the cannabis and sex movement is about much more.