“I was just an open vessel; everything broke free,” recalls Stefana Bosse, then a director at the Psychedelic Society. Under the influence of a strong dose of LSD, a nexus of buried emotions and traumas that formed the bedrock of her self-consciousness released themselves as she visualized herself as a flute while having sex.
“It was all just coming out.” It was the “most amazing” sexual experience of her entire life, Bosse proclaims, her face still suspended in a state of near disbelief. “Because I was in this psychedelic heightened state of consciousness, and had this incredible power over these different aspects of my mind, I just took this self-conscious part … and shifted it.”
Then she “exploded into the most beautiful orgasm” and for the first time understood the sanctity of sex and how intercourse can present a profound path for spiritual growth, she told the psychedelic conference Breaking Convention in 2017.
Since then, psychedelics have gone from niche curiosities still only just emerging from countercultural fringes to today, where they once again sit posed as potentially revolutionary tools. Mushrooms, LSD, MDMA, DMT and ibogaine are primed to transform psychiatry, upend addiction treatment, and provide lasting relief to the sufferers of chronic pain.
What is less known, is how they could spice up your love life and potentially save your relationship. A century from now, historians will doubtless view couple’s therapy in terms of a pre-psychedelic era, and a psychedelic era, according to Charles Wininger, a New York City psychotherapist and the author of Listening to Ecstasy: the Transformative Power of MDMA.
“MDMA-assisted therapy legalization [expected in the first half of 2024] is going to revolutionize couples counseling,” he says. “Guided effectively through an MDMA session, couples can find their way back to each other and resuscitate, or simply revitalize, their sex lives.”
Wininger has undergone up to 100 MDMA trips with his wife over years after she sought to “spread her wings” following a “repressive” first marriage to another man. “MDMA, the chemical of connection, opened up a whole world to her – and us!” he exclaims. Through these experiences he became an advocate.
The growing size of the anecdotal literature is arousing interest and the beginnings of an above-board industry are already popping up (and in some cases individual therapists have long been operating under the radar). After all, who wouldn’t want to save their relationships and in the process have what some adherents have described as the best sexual experiences of their lives on psychedelics.
Academics say a couple of startups are looking at developing psychedelic compounds for sexual functioning, or to treat trauma-related sexual dysfunction. Others are developing retreats aimed at fostering relationship satisfaction by combining couple therapy with psychedelics, even while the majority of people will experiment freestyle.
The scientific evidence remains sparse, and current research has almost entirely overlooked the post-study effect on participants’ sex lives. The only clinical data comes from a small pilot study investigating MDMA-assisted cognitive behavioral couple therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder which suggested it improves social intimacy and relationship satisfaction.
But there is growing interest in the field. Researchers at Imperial College are to release a larger piece of peer-reviewed research on the effect of psychedelics on sexual functioning, pleasure, and a number of other domains later this year. Psychedelics have been shown to foster greater mindfulness, awareness of the present moment and connectedness to others, while decreasing negative thinking, says Tomasso Barba, a research assistant at Imperial’s Centre for Psychedelic Research, who led the study. “You can easily see an improvement in those capacities could likely benefit our sex lives.”
He suggests use of psychedelics allows couples to more easily communicate their needs to each other. And, seek more deeply to provide their partners with pleasure. “We are often too self-focused,” Barba adds.
For Jack and Barbara, a couple in their early 40s who live in London and preferred to remain anonymous, the use of LSD — which they began during lockdown — has transformed their lives. “Acid sex is the best sex,” says Jack, “it’s the most totally in tune with each other that you can ever be.”
But that new connectivity and openness, following dozens of trips, has led them to today be in an open relationship together, both identify as bisexual and regularly attend sex parties, after a decade of heteronormative monogamy. “It made us a little more flexible about the way we think about ourselves,” adds Barba. “When you take psychedelics, you realize what you want to be doing in life.”
Arriving euphorically at a hallucinatory cosmic gate with heightened sensitivities can, for some, be part of wild, psychedelic-induced journeys inward towards ecstasy. But, as Barba suggests, many people go their whole lives without any effective self-enquiry or honest assessment of healthy needs.
“99% of couples who come to me are on the brink of separation and divorce,” says couples therapist and psychedelic guide Sarah Tilley, “but almost all of them subsequently stay together.” Guided psilocybin experiences help to “bring clarity to the arc of a long term relationship” and helps couples address their traumas, she claims.
Through talking therapy which takes place under the influence of magic mushrooms, partners are invited to delve into the root causes of their personality and character, including inherited family patterns. In a hyper-plastic state due to the drugs, after having already recognized serious change is required, Tilley finds her clients in a fertile state where fundamental shifts can be brought about.
“I train my clients to really start knowing each other, and to move past the patterns of their parents,” the founder of alternative couple therapy company Beautiful Space says. “It’s a question of removing blocks which have developed over time.” And so rather than stoically staying together for the kids over many years despite a looming cloud of despair constantly enveloping the family home amid a relative failure of traditional therapy, couples can now sidestep more sober routes towards reconciliation and “become tripping buddies”.
And so, the emergence of psychedelics in the field of sex therapy — a specialized area in psychology that has not seen significant advancement since landmark research on human sexuality half a century ago – could transform the lives of many who suffer relationship dysfunction with no effective remedy currently available. All of that may soon change. “I’m really excited this is finally all happening,” adds Tilley. “I didn’t believe I would see this in my lifetime. We have some really viable solutions coming here.”