Western women may be vulnerable to sexual assault when traveling abroad for Ayahuasca treatments.

Western women may be vulnerable to sexual assault when traveling abroad for Ayahuasca treatments. Image Source: Pexels.com user viola woolcott.

My most intense sexual experience and most intense psychedelic experience happen to be one and the same. After an ayahuasca ceremony, my boyfriend and I were resting in our room. Despite warnings that sex after ayahuasca can cause strong emotional complications, we decided we were ready to explore it. During the act, the psychological effects of the ayahuasca returned. I looked up and saw a giant, golden pyramid, melting and sending waves of warmth and swirling gold around us. In that moment, and for some time after, I felt a new connection towards my partner, which was both wonderful and unsettling. It took weeks to untangle the medicine from my authentic feelings towards my boyfriend, and I began to see how easily a shaman could take sexual and emotional advantage of a woman who is unprepared for these aspects of ayahuasca.

While ayahuasca can be a powerful healing tool, it can also be misused by brujos (witch doctors) to manipulate people in various ways. Everyone who participates in ayahuasca tourism should be aware of their safety, particularly Western women who are not familiar with the medicine or the culture of the Amazon. These women are at increased risk for sexual manipulation—including unwanted sexual advances as well as inauthentic bonding toward the shaman— by the less trustworthy ayahuasca experts. There are several ways you can protect yourself— through education, increased awareness and extra planning—but it is an especially good idea to consult a psychedelic therapist before you leave in order to ensure your experience will be as safe as possible.  

Finding a Trustworthy Shaman

Over the past twenty-five years, ayahuasca tourism in Peru has grown rapidly, with tourism concentrated in the Iquitos region. Most shamans offer an authentic and safe experience, but some individuals are poorly trained or looking to take advantage of  foreigners. Without government oversight or regulation, it can be difficult to know who you should trust.

To avoid the less trustworthy shamans and centers, it is a good idea to find a shaman through a local psychedelic therapist and contact them before booking your trip. Psychedelic therapists often hear about both the good and bad experiences in Peru as they help individuals integrate the psychedelic experience into their life. Not only will a psychedelic therapist be able to give you the contact information of a reputable ayahuasca shaman, but they can also help match your specific needs to a center or shaman. If you are particularly concerned about your sexual vulnerability while using ayahuasca, your psychedelic therapist may help you find a center that advocates for sexual celibacy before, during, and after ayahuasca use, where you will likely feel more comfortable.

Creating Expectations for the Experience

Whether you are taking a psychedelic in a familiar setting or traveling to Peru to take ayahuasca with a shaman you have never met, setting an intention will help you get the most out of your experience. For your first ceremony, it is generally recommended that you set a simple intention that will be easy to remember while under the medicine’s influence. You may seek spiritual guidance, physical healing, or a deeper understanding of a specific psychological problem, but your intention should be summarized in a single sentence you can repeat to yourself, like a mantra, during the ceremony. A few sessions with a psychedelic therapist before your trip can help you focus on your basic intentions and create a powerful mantra to guide you through the ceremony and prevent you from agreeing to explore areas which might make you uncomfortable.

A psychedelic therapist can also help prepare you for the rituals and cultural aspects of a traditional ayahuasca ceremony. They can let you know what cultural aspects may be different or unsettling for you, and what warning signs to be aware of.  For example, in some areas of Peru, it may be uncommon for women to take ayahuasca alone with a shaman, whereas in other areas it may be acceptable. Understanding these elements will help you spot practices that have been adapted to exploit Westerners.

Your therapist will also help prepare you for the physical experience. Depending on your concerns, you may talk about how to deal with sexual urges while under the influence of ayahuasca or how to maintain a sense of grounding and communicate with others during an intense psychedelic encounter.

Developing Personal Boundaries

People approach ayahuasca with different levels of physical and sexual comfort. While many practitioners advocate abstaining from sex before and during an ayahuasca ceremony in order to concentrate on the spiritual aspect of the medicine, others encourage exploring sexuality as an aspect of spirituality. Your first time using ayahuasca, you should consider abstaining from sexual activity—even with a partner you trust—as you may be emotionally vulnerable during that period. There have been unfortunate stories of women who have been led to believe they are in love with a shaman by engaging in sexual activities after an intense ceremony, and similar inauthentic attachments can happen between you and people you know. But if you are experienced with ayahuasca, you may choose to integrate your sexuality into your experience.

A psychedelic therapist can help you determine your personal boundaries in advance, so you will know what types of touch and speech you are open to experiencing during your ceremony. You may also set boundaries regarding the amounts of ayahuasca you are willing to take or what other substances you want to avoid or explore during your trip. After working out your boundaries in detail with the help of a therapist, you will be able to clearly express them to your companions and the shamans you work with.

Practicing Tools of Expression

Your personal boundaries will do little to protect you if you are unable to express them to others. A psychedelic therapist can help you practice various tools for expressing wants, needs, and boundaries to those around you, especially while you are under the influence of ayahuasca. They may give you specific tools, such as clarifying your boundaries before engaging in the experience or keeping a sober companion with you. They may also engage in role-playing with you to ensure you feel comfortable expressing yourself.

This article is not meant to diminish the many benefits of ayahuasca or scare Western women away from a medicine that can help them overcome physical and psychological ailments. But any time you travel abroad for medical or psychiatric treatment, you should assess the potential risks and take steps to ensure you have a safe trip. Since ayahuasca is still relatively new to Western society and not regulated in the countries where ayahuasca consumption is legal, tourists need to be diligent about their safety. Consulting a psychedelic therapist before your trip can reduce your overall risk and allow you to thoroughly process your experience when you return home in order to reap the most benefits out of the transformative experience that is an authentic ayahuasca ceremony.