In 1923, a little less than a hundred years ago, suffragettes Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman wrote the Equal Rights Amendment, which aimed to constitutionally guarantee equal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex.

Now, just imagine for a second, that we had the ability to travel back in time and tell Paul and Eastman that in the year 2019, the ERA has yet to be ratified. Imagine that we could also tell them (over gin fizzes sipped in an illegal speakeasy) that in the year 2019, women face a significant pay gap.

And while this would probably not come as a huge surprise to them, considering the sexual-political hangover of the Victorian Era during their lifetime, imagine that we could also tell them about one of the most disparate, yet little-talked-about gender-driven gaps that persist: The orgasm gap.

In 2017, in one of the largest studies on the subject to date—surveying more than 52,000 people and conducted jointly by the Kinsey Institute, Chapman University, and Indiana University—it was found that 95 percent of heterosexual men said they usually or always orgasm; 89 and 88 percent of gay and bisexual men reported the same, respectively. For women, lesbians came in at 86 percent, bisexual women reported at 66 percent, and heterosexual women reported at 65 percent.

“When it comes to who is and isn’t allowed to openly seek pleasure in our society, gender and sexuality constructs clearly play a significant role. And—surprise—women have been getting the short shrift.”

Whew. A lot to unpack there! The are of course sundry and complex sociological explanations to be mined from these disparities, which somehow manage to be both insightful and not surprising in the least. But let us stay focused on the point at hand: When it comes to who is and isn’t allowed to openly seek pleasure in our society, gender and sexuality constructs clearly play a significant role. And—surprise—women have been getting the short shrift.

And while it may indeed be depressing, there’s some potential good news budding on the horizon when it comes to closing that orgasm gap. And that good news, my friends, is weed.

In the wake of increased legalization and de-stigmatization of cannabis across the country in recent years, a recent study out of St. Louis University School of Medicine found that women who partook in a bit of green before getting down were two times more likely to have a “satisfactory orgasm” than those who didn’t. This, in addition to an increase in sex drive and less discomfort.

Hang on to your subversive, old-timey golf knickers, Alice and Crystal. Because a major catalyst in achieving greater equality in the bedroom may very well be upon us.

Shifting perceptions in a new era

Cannabis’ role in amplifying and opening up sexual experiences isn’t really anything new. Mention the word “Woodstock” and it’s all but impossible to mentally conjure up images of freewheeling young people clothed barely—if at all—flashing peace signs with one hand, smoking a doob with the other. And indeed, initial studies into the relationship between sex and weed date as far back as the 1970s, with a notable 1984 study finding that two-thirds of respondents reported that cannabis made intercourse better.

But as women today increasingly embrace the plant as a means to medicate, relax, and have fun at a rate predicted by industry experts to be equal to men by 2020, so too are they increasingly discovering that it can have an impact on their sex lives. We spoke to three women who use cannabis on a regular or semi-regular basis, sometimes explicitly for the purpose of enjoying sex more, for further insight.

Cannabis has shown me a whole new side of things

Jenny, a 29-year-old copywriter in Austin, Texas, estimates that she uses cannabis before having sex about 30 percent of the time. “It’s honestly amazing. I’ve been with my current partner for approximately three years, and I thought that meant I was comfortable during sex. But cannabis has shown me a whole new side of things,” she said. “I think it’s because it brings me out of my head, and I’m way more sensitive everywhere. I can relax and enjoy and experience everything, versus, well, thinking.”

While the study out of the St. Louis University School of Medicine acknowledges that the reasons why cannabis use can lead to increased sexual desire are still definitively unknown, Dr. Becky K. Lynn, associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at SLU and lead author of the study, postulates in the paper that it lowers stress and anxiety, while also decreasing inhibition and prompting a greater willingness to experiment.

It’s an experience echoed by Lauren, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mother in Colfax, California. While she doesn’t tend to plan her weed use around sex, she does find that it increases her libido. She estimates that she ends up having sex about 50 percent of the time after consumption. “I feel more sexually confident and eager to try new things when I am under the influence of marijuana,” she says.

My orgasms are longer lasting and more intense

Lauren also asserts that cannabis use yields a different quality of orgasm than those she experiences without it. “I feel that my orgasms are longer lasting and more intense when experienced under the influence of marijuana,” she says. “My body feels more relaxed and I believe that allows me to be more in the moment during a sexual experience.”

Emily, a 27-year-old social media strategist in New York City expressed a similar sentiment: “The contractions I have during an orgasms just feel a lot slower and stronger. Sometimes I feel like I actually can intentionally draw them out longer, like that’s in my control, if that makes sense. But maybe that’s just me being stoned,” she said.

Supporting research in the SLU study points to findings that the perception of longer and more intense orgasms may have to do with cannabis’ effect on the way a consumer perceives time. Referencing a 2013 study out of Yale, it was found that occasional cannabis users reported an increase in internal clock speed; in other words, time was experienced as “stretched” in relation to actual time passed, potentially allowing for the perception that orgasms last longer.

Every bone, muscle, and tissue in my body was put to good use

Dr. Lynn’s study also identified a third potential contributor to improved orgasms: heightened sensation of touch and increased physical closeness, which has been the subject of multiple established decades-old studies. Some respondents to Dr. Lynn’s survey of 300 patients indicated that cannabis use enabled them to have orgasms in sexual encounters where they normally would not.

It’s an effect echoed by Jenny in her experiences with cannabis use as well. “I’ve tended towards clitoral orgasms, but have many more combo orgasms when I use marijuana. I feel entirely satisfied and exhausted, like every bone, muscle, and tissue in my body was put to good use.”

The effect of heightened sensitivity is particularly intriguing when considered alongside the findings of the Kinsey et al. study from 2017: “Women were more likely to orgasm if their last sexual encounter included deep kissing, manual genital stimulation, and/or oral sex in addition to vaginal intercourse.”

The future of cannabis as treatment for female sexual dysfunction

Beyond improvements in sex across a broad spectrum as cannabis increasingly becomes legal and more socially acceptable, leading researchers like Dr. Lynn are hopeful that the connection between weed use and improved sexual experiences, including better and more easily achieved orgasms, offers a potentially promising path when it comes to treating female sexual dysfunction, a condition that affects 40 percent of women in the United States.

“A better understanding of the role of the endocannabinoid system in women is important, because there is a paucity of literature, and it could help lead to development of treatments for female sexual dysfunction,” the study states.

Researchers and medical experts are careful to emphasize that cannabis use still may be harmful in some respects, and that the breadth of research and studies remains insufficient. But as legalization efforts continue and the benefits of conscious cannabis use make their way into the mainstream, it certainly seems like weed has the potential to make an impact on the orgasm gap. And who knows? Progress in sexual equality could very well spill into other areas as well.

The ERA needs one more state to ratify the amendment in order for it to be enshrined in the constitution, and activists have their sights set on Arizona as one of the states most likely to back it. Recreational cannabis is also on the ballot in Arizona for 2020, after failing narrowly in 2016.

Stay tuned for whether the Grand Canyon State (and honestly, could there be a better symbol for what’s at stake than a giant, majestic crevice?) will be the harbinger of more gender equality.

By Deena Drewis

August 30, 2019

Deena is the founder of Nouvella, an award-winning, independent publishing company. She was a finalist for the WeWork Creator Awards in 2017, and a recipient of the Girlboss Foundation Grant in 2015. Previously, she worked as an editor at Girlboss.