The latest and possibly most bizarre twist in the saga of Tiger Woods and his growing coterie of amours involves the prescription sleep aid Ambien.
Rachel Uchitel, a 34-year-old velvet rope holder and head of VIP operations for a rotating number of popular nightclubs, including Griffin, where she met Woods, reportedly told a friend that she and Woods had “crazy Ambien sex.”
“I’m now curious if I had the best sexual experience of my life and don’t even remember it.”
• Gerald Posner: Tiger and Pills • Gerald Posner: The Secret World of Golf Groupies• Gallery: Tiger Woods the Movie• Complete Coverage of the Tiger Woods Scandal Yes, Ambien sex. It sounds like an oxymoron, since Ambien is in the family of sedatives. But Ambien is said to offer more than a night of super sleep. For some, the drug can produce a haze of inhibition, making sex crazier, hotter, and more erotic.
This is a new incarnation of Ambien sex. It’s already widely known that Ambien can act as a memory eraser. People have sought advice after having affairs in Ambien-induced states, waking up to phone calls from women they have no recollection of meeting, let alone sleeping with.
Ambien works in conjunction with a neurotransmitter called Gamma-Aminobuytric acid, a brain chemical that when mixed with the drug reduces the general level of electrical activity in certain areas of the brain associated with sleep. But Ambien, which is classified as a hypnotic drug, works on the same receptors as benzodiazapines. In other words, Ambien shouldn’t be any more sexually exciting than Valium. There are benzodiazapine receptors in the brain, but those are the kinds that are sought out for sedation, not sexual excitement.
"The vast majority of people who use Ambien do not find that it promotes sex, and more often they find that it interferes with sexual interest,” says Dr. David Schab, assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University.
So why would Woods and Uchitel use it as an aphrodisiac, the same way people used Ambien’s sexual-enhancement predecessors, Ecstasy and cocaine?
“Yeah, I feel very relaxed and sensual,” an anonymous woman told MadeMan.com about her experience with Ambien sex. “I suddenly have floaty energy. I am tired, but energetic. It’s almost like I’m in a dreamlike state. I might compare it a little to weed, but nothing that I’ve done really compares, to be honest.”
Devon Dove, founder of ambienoutrage.com, a Web site that says it helps victims of Ambien, says he isn’t surprised Woods and Uchitel may have used it to heat up their sex life.
“Ambien is like LSD or Ecstasy,” Dove says. “You definitely feel a little bit of a buzz. You feel a euphoria when you take it.”
Medical experts, like Schab, say that to the extent Ambien creates a buzz or sense of haziness, someone might be less mindful of his or her usual inhibitions.
But if Woods is taking Ambien to make his sex life better, it’s not without a cost. Dove, who started ambienoutrage.com after crashing his car while sleep driving on Ambien, says Woods looks like a textbook case of Ambien sleep driving. (The golfer was injured after he ran over a fire hydrant and hit a neighbor’s tree with his Cadillac Escalade on Thanksgiving night; police say alcohol was not a factor in the accident.)
“I’ve talked to over 200 people about their experience on Ambien and what happened to Woods is exactly how people describe sleep driving,” Dove says. “You wake up with your car wrapped around a tree, and you are just lying there, asleep.”
So what could have been the allure of Ambien for Woods? Loss of inhibition may be part of it, but the drug, because it also functions as memory eraser, can take the edge off an extramarital affair. In other words, Woods wouldn’t have to contend with his conscience in the morning. How can you feel guilty about something you don’t remember? In the bubble of Ambien amnesia, it would be no wonder Woods could keep such a large stable of mistresses. He would be impervious to the nip of guilt at his heels.
“Ambien clearly promotes amnesia about engagement in these activities and a lack of awareness that the activities are inappropriate at the time in which they’re being enacted,” says Schab.
Sara, a woman in her 30s who lives in Brooklyn, who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity, says her experience with Ambien sex was something she would have no memory of if her boyfriend hadn’t vouched as a witness. “Before I took Ambien, a friend warned me that I should unplug my phone because it’s really strong and that people do crazy things on it,” she says. “The next morning I woke, and I wasn’t wearing any clothes.”
But Sara had no memory of having sex with her boyfriend the night before, and he didn’t sense anything was amiss, either. The next morning he told Sara he thought “we were just having sex like we usually do,” she says.
Sara, who has not taken Ambien since that night, says the whole experience was weird and unsettling: “I just felt lucky that it was with someone I knew.”
As for the Ambien sex haze, Sara says she missed that window of inhibition. “I’m now curious if I had the best sexual experience of my life and don’t even remember it,” she says.
So should Ambien come with a warning label about sex? Probably. In a 2008 review of case reports on complex sleep behaviors associated with Ambien in the medical journal CNS Drugs, the single case of “sleep sex” involved an Ambien taker being raped.
“We make a mockery of the word aphrodisiac if by it we mean a substance that sets one up to be raped,” says Schab.
Hannah Seligson is a journalist. Her book, A Little Bit Married: How to Know When It’s Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door, will be published by Da Capo Press on Jan. 15.