Why Does Ambien Make Me Horny?

Photographed by Megan Madden.
I've dealt with insomnia since high school. I've tried a variety of sleeping medications over the years to varying degrees of success, primarily Trazodone, an antidepressant that can also be prescribed for insomnia. However, I began to experience hangover-like side effects, so I stopped taking it. Roughly two years ago I decided to try the all-natural route to treat my insomnia: exercise, yoga, Valerian root, no screens before bedtime, you name it. The result was five days straight with no sleep, which was disruptive to both my professional and personal life. Finally, my dad insisted I go to the doctor, get some freaking medication, and get off my all-natural high horse that obviously wasn't taking me anywhere good. I saw a doctor, obtained a prescription for Ambien (generic name zolpidem), and for the first time in nearly a week, had a blissful night of sleep. Before long, I was also having blissful (albeit odd) sex prior to falling asleep.
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Yep: Ambien makes you sleep, but it can also make you want to have sex. When you take it as directed, you swallow it right as you lie down in bed, close your eyes, and let yourself be carried away down the blissful river to the the unconscious, where you can fly and make sweet love to Javier Bardem. But if you take Ambien and stay up, as some who take the pill recreationally do purposefully, you may find yourself sitting at your window admiring the fairies in your backyard, writing regrettable love poems, or binging on week-old leftovers molding in your fridge. And if you're sleeping next to a partner, you might just decide you'd much rather have wild passionate sex than fall asleep. Some Ambien-sex-havers take the drug solely for the trippy, lowered-inhibition sex, while others, like me, may pop a pill and then — rather than going right to sleep — start talking to their partner, reading, scrolling on Twitter (careful with that) or doing something else that (not exactly intentionally) keeps them awake on Ambien and ready to bone down. Staying up and experiencing such side effects has become known on the internet as the "Ambien Walrus." Sleep blog Van Winkles accurately describes the Walrus as: "When [Ambien] works as intended, the user is like a lump, but when it exhibits its adverse effects, the user is driven to sleepwalk, shuffling around awkwardly as a walrus would flipper across an ice floe." Van Winkles adds: "If Walrus happens to share a bed with someone, it may get amorous with that person."
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Ambien makes you sleep, but it can also make you want to have sex.

As John Lennon once said: I am the Walrus.
Ambien sex made tabloid headlines in 2009 when one of Tiger Woods' mistresses, Rachel Uchitel, claimed she and Woods had "crazy Ambien sex," indicating they used it recreationally for the sex benefits. My Ambien sex experience was more of a sloppy Walrus who stayed up too late writing strange and terrible book proposals structured after the tarot deck or watching porn and then, whoops, sex sounds much more fun than sleep. I now have enough experience with Ambien to understand the importance of taking it as directed, and it works for me with minimal side effects, but now and then, if I'm sleeping next to a partner, I want to bang. There is a high (or "false or unusual sense of well-being") associated with Ambien, so in my experience, sometimes even when I take it and try to fall right asleep, I'll find myself brainstorming ways to save the world through sex magic and feel it's important to put those into action. A half-asleep partner isn't always interested, but if they're awake and into it, you can indeed have hot sex on Ambien.
Why? It's all about lowered inhibitions. An increase in arousal is not listed as a side effect of Ambien, but "lack or loss of self-control" is. To my knowledge, there are no studies that directly look at the relationship between Ambien and arousal. However, I reached out to Michael Breus, PhD, a.k.a. "The Sleep Doctor," to see if he had heard about Ambien making people horny rather than sleepy. "I have heard of people using Ambien because it lowers their inhibitions and they tend to do more interesting things sexually," Dr. Breus says. It appears the reason Ambien makes me and others horny is due to the side effects of lowered self-control and inhibitions rather than a direct connection between the drug and arousal. "If the Ambien were to disinhibit a person who normally has some level of anxiety putting a damper on their libido, it could also lead to being turned on," says Madeleine Castellanos, MD, an NYC-based sex therapist, psychiatrist, and author of Wanting to Want: What Kills Your Sex Life and How to Keep It Alive.
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Here's the bummer: While Ambien is an amazing tool for actual insomniacs, like me, to get a solid night of sleep, it's also a serious drug that must be respected — and taking it recreationally is truly a terrible idea. Taking Ambien and intentionally staying awake, taking more than the safe prescribed dose, and — especially — mixing it with alcohol are all dangerous moves that could land you in the emergency room or even (particularly if you mix it with booze or other drugs) kill you. Asking for sex can be scary, which is why we're always on the hunt for the latest aphrodisiac to lower our inhibitions and give us the sex life of our dreams — but even great sex isn't worth the possible risks that come along with taking Ambien the wrong way.

Even great sex isn't worth the possible risks that come along with taking Ambien the wrong way.

Because I'd rather be alive and healthy while having magical sex, I only take my Ambien as directed under my doctor's supervision. I also don't take it every night (to reduce the risk of dependency), and don't take it in combination with other medications. Luckily I don't drink alcohol anyway, but if I did, I would definitely never combine the two.
Plus, there are much safer ways for me to lower my inhibitions and have magical sex without Ambien, such as discussing my needs with a partner — or, if I want to go the medicinal route, using a cannabis capsule. They may not lead to in-flight sex with Javier Bardem IRL, but they work for me.
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