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I recently collaborated with a colleague, Alexandria Jones, who wrote an extensive article on Psychedelic-Assisted Sex Therapy (PAST). Drawing from her insightful work, I wanted to share some important aspects here, highlighting the therapeutic potential of combining psychedelics with sex therapy to support sexual healing and well-being.



What is Psychedelic-Assisted Sex Therapy and its History?


Psychedelic-Assisted Sex Therapy (PAST) is an innovative approach combining psychedelic medicine with sex therapy to support sexual healing. It involves using substances like MDMA, psilocybin, LSD, or ketamine in a safe, trauma-informed environment under the guidance of a licensed mental health provider and certified sex therapist. These therapists create a consented, supportive space to help clients navigate their sexual healing journey.


The roots of PAST can be traced back to ancient practices like Tantra, which originated in the Hindu framework around the first millennium CE. Tantra's meditative and ritual practices, emphasizing sacred sexuality and spiritual connection, laid the foundation for integrating psychedelics with therapeutic practices. Today, PAST distinguishes itself by requiring a clear therapeutic framework, ensuring consent, boundaries, and a respectful therapist-client relationship.


Psychedelic-Assisted Sex Therapy Techniques, Approaches, and Uses


Researchers and therapists are exploring the potential of psychedelic medicine to address sexual difficulties and enhance intimacy. Various therapeutic approaches can be interwoven into the psychedelic therapy journey, whether in preparation, the medicine experience, or integration phases.


In my book, "Unfolding Eros - A Journey into Psychedelic-Assisted Sex Therapy," I explore how psychedelics can be integrated into sex therapy. The combining traditional therapeutic approaches with the unique properties of psychedelics to support sexual healing has great potential.


Benefits: Who Can PAST Help?


PAST can benefit a wide range of individuals, offering healing for various sexual and relational issues. Here are some issues PAST can address:


  • Sexual communication and relationship difficulties

  • Intimacy and connection issues

  • Low or inhibited sexual desire

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Religious trauma

  • Couples' desire discrepancy

  • Premature ejaculation

  • Erectile dysfunction

  • Arousal and orgasm difficulties

  • Intimacy after infidelity or addiction

  • Concerns about pornography usage

  • Exploring LGBTQ issues

  • Alternative lifestyles, swinging, and open relationships

  • Polyamory, kink, and fetishes

  • BDSM challenges

  • Male and female sexual health

  • Pain during sex (Vaginismus, Dyspareunia)

  • Sexual trauma

  • Sex after pregnancy or cancer

  • Sexual issues related to infertility treatments


Effectiveness


While specific research on PAST is limited, there is a growing body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. For instance, recent MDMA trials have shown significant improvements in PTSD symptoms, which is promising for survivors of sexual trauma. These studies indicate that psychedelics can alter the brain's response to traumatic memories, enhance emotional regulation, and foster self-compassion and empathy.


Research also suggests that psychedelics like MDMA and psilocybin have potential in treating anxiety and depression, common among individuals experiencing sexual dysfunction or trauma. These findings highlight the transformative potential of psychedelics in addressing complex emotional and psychological issues.


How is it Different from Traditional Psychedelic Therapy?


PAST integrates elements that traditional psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy may overlook. It emphasizes a holistic approach, incorporating nature-based practices, decolonizing perspectives, somatic and body-centered methods, and a strong focus on consent and boundaries. The community-based and family systems approach of PAST also distinguishes it from more conventional therapeutic models.


In PAST, the therapeutic relationship involves open dialogue about sexual energy, boundaries, and consent, ensuring a safe and respectful space for clients to explore their sexual healing.


How to Get Started as a Client


To begin your journey with PAST, seek out a psychedelic-assisted sex therapy provider who is also a certified sex therapist who offers integration with medicine journeys. If local providers are unavailable, consider traveling to a provider or consulting a certified sex therapist for support.


Finding the right clinician involves screening and asking questions to ensure they have the necessary expertise and experience. It's essential to find a therapist who understands the unique challenges and dynamics of PAST.


Becoming Psychedelic Sex Therapy Informed


For clinicians interested in PAST, Alexandria and I agree, it's very important to understand the scope of practice and know when to refer clients to a specialist. Collaboration with local holistic sex therapists and continuous education are vital for providing the best care.


Why Do We Need a Curriculum for Sex Therapists to be Trained and Become More Informed?


Developing a curriculum for PAST is essential as it prepares therapists to work safely and effectively with clients in this unique modality. Such training should cover psychedelic therapy foundations, sex therapy basics, integration of both practices, clinical skills, ethical considerations, and ongoing professional development.


A well-rounded curriculum ensures therapists are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and ethical foundation needed to incorporate psychedelics into sex therapy practices safely. This comprehensive approach will enhance the field and support therapists in providing effective, transformative care for their clients.


For more information on PAST and resources, visit my colleague at Rooted Healing Sanctuary.

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Psychedelics like magic mushrooms and LSD have sparked interest for their potential to enhance sexual functioning, revealing that people might enjoy improved sexual health for months after their experience. This innovative study, rooted in the findings of the Center for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, sheds light on the lasting impacts of psychedelics on various aspects of sexual wellness. Gathering data from nearly 300 individuals before and after their psychedelic journey, the research offers a novel lens through which to view the intersection of psychedelics and sexuality.


"In the trial of psilocybin therapy versus an SSRI escitalopram for depression, patients treated with psilocybin reported positive changes in sexual functioning after treatment while patients treated with escitalopram did not."

Participants from diverse backgrounds—ranging from those seeking recreational experiences to individuals in clinical trials for depression—shared their experiences. They reported short-term enhancements and sustained improvements in their enjoyment of sex, arousal levels, and overall satisfaction. Interestingly, the study also touched on aspects of sexual well-being, such as body image perceptions and the ability to connect meaningfully with partners.



(Kettner et al., 2024)


The clinical trial aspect of the study, focusing on psilocybin therapy for depression, revealed particularly striking contrasts with traditional antidepressants. Where antidepressants often dampen sexual desire and satisfaction, psilocybin seemed to do the opposite, hinting at its potential to sidestep some of the most challenging side effects of conventional treatments. This discovery could revolutionize approaches to mental health and relationship therapy, offering new pathways to healing without compromising sexual health.


The findings suggest that psychedelics might boost sexual pleasure and could transform the entire sexual experience, making it richer and more fulfilling. Such insights pave the way for further exploration in therapeutic settings, perhaps offering hope to those who struggle with sexual dysfunction as part of their mental health challenges.


Despite the exciting prospects these findings present, the authors urge caution, noting the limitations of their study, such as its reliance on self-reported data and the lack of diversity among participants. They also remind us of the controlled, safe conditions under which these substances were administered in clinical trials.


This exploration into psychedelics and sexual functioning opens up a world of potential benefits, standing at the intersection of improved mental health and enriched personal relationships. As research continues to unravel the complexities of psychedelics' effects on our psychological and emotional well-being, we stand on the brink of a new understanding of how these substances can influence one of the most intimate aspects of human life.


Reference:

Barba, T., Kettner, H., Radu, C., Peill, J. M., Roseman, L., Nutt, D. J., ... & Giribaldi, B. (2024). Psychedelics and sexual functioning: a mixed-methods study. Scientific Reports, 14(1), 2181.


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Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is reshaping mental health treatments. A recent study investigating the effects of Psilocybin Therapy (PT) versus conventional antidepressants like Escitalopram (Lexapro) in treating Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) challenged traditional approaches. It highlighted the unique psychological mechanisms underpinning psychedelic therapy's success.


DALL-E, 2024


PT, utilizing psychoactive compounds found in magic mushrooms, induces deep, meaningful psychological experiences. These experiences, particularly mystical experiences and ego dissolution, play a key role in the treatment's effectiveness. Unlike traditional antidepressants focusing on serotonin levels for symptom management, PT leverages acute psychological transformations for long-term healing.


This study's trial with a rigorous control and double-blind structure compared PT against Escitalopram, a commonly prescribed Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI). Patients undergoing PT reported significantly higher levels of mystical experiences and ego dissolution, linked to a greater reduction in depressive symptoms.


The study also highlighted the role of music during PT sessions in enhancing these experiences, suggesting the therapeutic setting significantly influences the treatment's efficacy. This aspect distinguishes PT from traditional treatments, pointing towards a holistic approach that integrates environment, mindset, and "drugs" to catalyze healing.


One striking finding was the durability of PT's effects. Patients treated with psilocybin showed lasting improvements, suggesting the acute psychological experiences induced by the therapy lead to long-term neuroplastic changes, contrasting with the maintenance approach of SSRIs, which often requires ongoing medication to manage symptoms.


What makes this exciting for me as a psychotherapist is the validation that the research expresses in reinforcing the significant aspect of impactful psychedelic psychotherapy as the mechanism of change in conjunction with rewiring the brain. These medicines themselves, in particular in microdose levels, do not necessarily create any more change than what you would see in classic psychiatric pharmacology.


This study validates the effectiveness of Psilocybin Therapy and highlights the role of mystical experiences and ego dissolution in driving therapeutic change. It paves the way for a new understanding of mental health treatment, where transformative psychological experiences are used for profound and enduring healing.


Reference:

Weiss, B., Roseman, L., Giribaldi, B., Nutt, D. J., Carhart-Harris, R. L., & Erritzoe, D. (2024). Unique Psychological Mechanisms Underlying Psilocybin Therapy Versus Escitalopram Treatment in the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-36.

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