It’s not news to anyone that some gay men like to chase drugs (chems) with sex, seeking the ultimate orgasm — an experience that in reality might only happen once.
Nothing will ever match the overwhelming dopamine rush of first time use, but don’t tell the chem-sex crowd that. They will spend the rest of their addiction (for some, the rest of their lives) hoping to repeat that first high.
Chem-sex is simply the old PnP or party and play, using drugs and having sex, most commonly crystal meth. Crystal Meth is a stimulant that has been used to self-treat ADHD and obesity. It can be snorted, smoked or “booty bumped” (a little mixed with liquid in a syringe and pushed into the rectum without a needle). Or, for the “ultimate” and most harmful high, you can “slam” it (injecting the drug mixed with a liquid into the vein), usually without any self-regard. This, when sharing or using dirty needles, can lead to HIV, hepatitis, serious abscesses, infections and a host of other problems. Other drugs that are “usually” used in this scene can be GHB, cocaine, and even heroin, which is making a strong come back (said to be used to calm users down after a night of sex and stimulants).W01-COVER-200214
Contrary to urban legend, chem-sex has never left the gay scene. It has been around for decades, but every once in a while there are articles that say the culture has declined. Empirical evidence — recovery facility bed nights, emergency room visits, detox bed nights, and overdoses — have remained constant and high, however. Providers that serve the City of West Hollywood report meth as the primary addiction, along with secondary and tertiary addictions, among their clients.
The new monster at the party, though, is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain reliever that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. The user usually has no clue that it has been mixed in with their drugs and it can kill in moments. There is no standard safe dosage, as everyone is different. If there is no biological intervention with something like Narcan, (an anti-opioid drug that stops overdoses sometimes within two minutes), an overdose can turn fatal quickly. Now also available are fentanyl test strips. When the test strip is dipped into a small amount of the drug to be used, that has been mixed with water, the strip will indicate if there is a presence of fentanyl.
It is assumed that dealers are mixing fentanyl into their product, to either stretch their drugs further and make more money or to get their clients hooked more quickly, as fentanyl is extremely addictive. The outcome is a rash of overdoses, with many of the victims never knowing there was fentanyl in their stuff.
Another unfortunate phenomenon is mixing chem-sex with undiagnosed pre-existing conditions, whether physical or mental. An asymptomatic and undetected heart ailment can turn into a full fledged cardiac arrest wtih meth or fentanyl laced meth use. Mental illness, treated with proper medications or not treated at all can, after substance use, induce hallucinations leading self harm or injury to others.
“I liked sex on TINA (crystal meth) and G (ghb), ‘cuz I could get fucked for 8 hours straight. I liked it because I could take multiple huge cocks for long periods of time. I liked it because I was totally detached from my spirit and I didn’t care what happened to me” says one recovered chem-sex player. They now have more than a decade of recovery, through hard work and a 12 step program: “Now I unashamedly like the same, but, without chemicals, and I am present.”
Another recovering addict says, “Chem sex…it made doing WHATEVER I wanted to do ok. It made orgasms feel like a 20 on a 1-10 scale. It helped me to validate myself. The more sex I had, the more validated I felt. Sober sex was hard at first, but now it is seriously enjoyable and I am able to have multiple orgasms in a healthy way.” They are celebrating more than 11 years clean and sober.
These are not uncommon stories.
Chem-sexers claim they have sex for hours even days on end. But they begin to not have erections, even with the tightest of cock rings, and cannot reach an orgasm. They masturbate sometimes until their penis is bleeding, raw, cut or abraded into open wounds, rendering it unusable for long periods of time. Sometimes the damage is permanent. It is an unintended consequence, but sadly a common profile for the chem-sex crowd.
In the slippery dark digital world of instant hookup sex apps, chem-sexers can match with potential partner in just a few minutes and even fewer clicks. They can score drugs, find each other for chem-sex or hustle for money or for exchange of sex for drugs.
Looking at any dating or hook-up app, there are countless mentions of “the clouds,” “get to the point,” “PnP,” and “Tina” sprinkled throughout thousands of profiles. Those are some of the code words and camouflaged phrases used to seek out other chem-sexers at online dating sites and hook-up apps.
There have been a rash of “gay baiters” preying on gay men in search of drugs or partying on some apps. The end result is a straight guy or crowd waiting where the meeting is supposed to take place. They will rob, beat, harm or kill the chem-sexer, who may be already partying and unaware of what is actually happening.
Holidays that advertise love, togetherness, family and friends, are many times the cause of a relapse. Gay men are still socially ostracized and may be estranged from families, may be loners or just lonely.
Underlying depression or undiagnosed mental illness exacerbates the feeling of loneliness which can cause a return to the familiar chem-sex scene.
Relapses can sometimes be more harmful than first use. The brain, psyche and body may not be healed and rates of relapse among meth users exceeds 90 percent. Everyone is different, of course.
For those able to seek help, recovery services and programs are available.
Many insurance companies will cover 30/60/90 days of in patient treatment. But for those with no assets or insurance, there are free services. The system is not easy to navigate and beds are not always immediately available. There are 12 step meetings in almost every city and at multiple times during the day or week, easing the stress of waiting to check into an available facility.
For now, there is still no biological intervention for meth. Users of the drug – as well as professionals in the medical field – remain hopeful that biological intervention may be just around the corner. Let us all hope an intervention comes sooner rather than later.
It is said no one can help an addict get sober better than another addict. Sober crowds and groups exist nearly everywhere and gay enclaves like West Hollywood thrive because of them.
Call it the collective will-power of the tribe. It saved us before and it will save us again.
The second great plague on the gay community is most certainly well underway.
— Jimmy Palmieri is founder of The Tweakers Project and currently serves as a West Hollywood Human Services Commissioner.
— Joseph Fenity contributed to this article.
Note: The City of West Hollywood works through its Social Services Division to provide services to community members through agencies that provide substance abuse, recovery, and other health and mental health services. For additional information, visit www.weho.org/wehocares.
CRYSTAL METH ANONYMOUS
(323) 936-4343 or (800) 923-8722
(for relatives and friends of Alcoholics)
AIDS PROJECT LOS ANGELES
Addictive Behavior Specialist. Individual therapy, groups and community events for individuals with HIV
Provides substance abuse counseling for HIV positive community members
BREATHE LIFE HEALING CENTER
60-90 day substance abuse rehab in Laurel Canyon
Substance abuse programs for youth 12-24 years old
Youth group made up of youth leaders from the community. All activities alcohol/drug- and tobacco-free for youth ages 14-24
FRIENDS COMMUNITY CENTER
Provides HIV prevention and substance use treatment to MSM and trans women including one-on-on counseling, groups, street outreach and technology-based interventions (mHealth and eHealth)
LOS ANGELES LGBT CENTER
Provides Crystal Meth and addiction recovery services and programs
A residential substance abuse recovery and sober living facility for men. No one turned away for lack of funds
Residential substance abuse/co-occurring mental health treatment, HIV/AIDS services, and recovery support services
TARZANA TREATMENT CENTER
Comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment center for adults and teens
THE TWEAKERS PROJECT
Resources and referrals for addiction and recovery. The Tweakers Project also distributes condoms and safer sex kits to individuals and groups in need, at no cost
TWIN TOWN TREATMENT CENTERS
Outpatient alcohol and drug treatment. Government-funded services are available to young adults under the federal “Access to Recovery” program. Private pay options accept most insurance plans and/or flexible payment schedules
VAN NESS RECOVERY HOUSE
Day Treatment, Residential, Sober Living and Aftercare drug and alcohol recovery services targeting LGBT men and women. 12-step meetings throughout the week (AA, OA, NA HIV+, SCA)
WEST HOLLYWOOD RECOVERY CENTER
12-step group meetings