Sex while high on drugs like crystal methamphetamine can be a euphoric experience and drugs can make sex easier, but it can be a double-edged sword as a person can easily become addicted to the drugs and his life can fall apart. That was one of the messages coming out of a town hall forum on “Chemsex” held Wednesday night in West Hollywood.
About 75 people attended the forum, which saw seven experts on various aspects of drugs and recovery sharing their experience and knowledge.
“Chemsex” is the term for using drugs as part of one’s sex life, an issue especially prevalent among gay and bisexual men. “Chemsex” is often referred to as “party and play.”
Younger gays who are just coming out and/or are new to a large, sex-positive gay community like West Hollywood are especially vulnerable to “party and play.” Drugs can calm nervousness and provide a connection to others who are also using as well as heightening the sexual experience.
Panelist Jason du Puy explained he was anti-drug when he came to West Hollywood in 2008 at age 17 from Stockton, but quickly got caught up in the gay party scene. Doing drugs offered a sense of camaraderie with other partyers and also enhanced sex. But he quickly became addicted, his life and self-esteem falling apart in the process.
“Crystal meth allows us to check out on life but do it with other people,” explained du Puy, who has been drug free and sober for eight years now, since age 21. He explained how important it is to let people know there is hope for a drug-free life.
Melissa McCracken, a chemsex counselor at West Hollywood’s Breathe Life Healing Center, explained she got into drugs wanting to feel like she belonged in a group of friends, but quickly became addicted as well.
“I wanted intimacy. I just wanted to be close to people and the drugs got me there,” said McCracken.
Meanwhile, Tom Pardoe, a director and producer who has been drug free for 25 years, explained when he started doing drugs, it allowed him to have sex beyond his “wildest dreams” and he wanted to keep having that experience. However, whenever he came down from the drugs, he felt shame, a feeling that grew stronger every time he did drugs.
Since he’s gotten sober, Pardoe has had to learn how to negotiate sex, talking about what turns him on with his sex partners. That sexual discussion, although sometimes difficult to have, often leads to greater feelings of intimacy with his partners as well as better sex.
For some who have become accustomed to doing drugs before having sex, it can be difficult to have sex without the drugs, something that often keeps them using. However, du Puy assured people it is possible to learn how to have sex without drugs.
“I’m a prime example, you can do sex sober, you can go to the bathhouses sober,” said du Puy.
Sexual situations can be especially awkward if one partner is sober, but the other is using. Such situations can create a power dynamic where the sober partner feels pressured to use.
Du Puy reported learning how to say “No” is an important part of sobriety. For others who aren’t quite to the point where saying “No” is easy, they sometimes just pretend to do the drug (especially in bathhouse situations) to appease the partner.
Crystal methamphetamine, often called “meth” or “tina” is not the only party drug people use while having sex. Cocaine, MDMA (commonly called “ecstasy” or “molly”) and GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyrate, a depressant sometimes used as a date rape drug) are also frequently used to enhance sex.
However, meth seems one of the most pervasive drugs in the gay community, as well as one of the most destructive and hardest to quit. As McCracken explained, people can get most of the other drugs completely out of their systems in about 30 days, but meth often takes 14 months to fully get out of the body.
Twelve-step recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA) are the most frequently used methods for staying off drugs. Such 12-step recovery meetings abound in the Loa Angeles region. However, 12-step programs are not the only treatment method for addiction. Panelist Lello Tesema with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Control division explained that individual counseling and group counseling can also be effective.
Panel co-moderator Alexis Sanchez said trying multiple treatment methods is important until people find what works best for them.
However, Tesema cautioned that not everyone who tries to get off drugs manages to stay off the drugs the first time. It can take people multiple tries at sobriety.
“Relapse is a given as part of the recovery journey,” said Tesema.
WeHo resident Jimmy Palmieri who founded the Tweakers Project to help people stay off meth, said that as part of the advertising, the Tweakers Project used local residents in recovery as models. He explained that seeing their peers, their friends or neighbors, in the ads often give people hope they can get sober too.
“People will often say, ‘I know that guy [in the ad]. If he can do it [get off drugs], maybe I can do it too,” said Palmieri.
Tesema concurred, saying a message of hope is generally more effective than a message of fear.
McCracken echoed that sentiment, saying if you are living your best sober, drug-free life, people will notice and be drawn to it.
A recent development is that some party drugs can be laced with fentanyl, a powerful opioid that can cause death in as little as 60 seconds. There have been several recent reports of people found dead after using drugs laced with fentanyl. That’s why many places like the Los Angeles LGBT Center or APLA Health give out free fentanyl testing strips with no questions asked so people can test the drugs they buy before using it.
“Fentanyl testing strips are a miracle for us,” said Palmieri. “They’ve saved many lives.”
Some audience members questioned whether fentanyl was really a problem associated with crystal meth, but Tesema reported that one in four fentanyl deaths involved crystal meth.
City Councilmember John Duran, who served as the other co-moderator and has 20+ years of sobriety, said that watching others struggle with addiction can be gut wrenching. “Watching the human carnage is so painful,” said Duran. However, he said that when people decide they are ready to get clean and sober, there is a lot of help available.
Afterward, Sanchez, who helped organize the panel, was happy with the turn out. Sanchez, who focuses on substance abuse in the LGBT community as part of her work as a program manager with the Institute for Public Strategies, is glad to have gotten information about recovery out.
“I think it was a rousing success,” said Sanchez. “I wanted to make sure people left here full of hope and hopefully able to help get a loved one or friend or themselves into recovery, to make sure they are safe and healthy and alive. Sometimes what we do is plant the seed.”