Sex, Drugs and HIV
Research studies have shown that sexual behaviour among gay men who use cocaine, poppers and Crystal showed a significant link to unsafe sex. That doesn't mean drugs cause unsafe sex. Some people want to have that kind of sex in the first place, and use drugs to make it easier. But the fact remains: anal sex without a condom is the main way a gay man gets HIV, and that usually happens while you're high. Making decisions about what you want someone else to do or not to do sexually can be difficult even when sober, remember that those decisions get even harder when you're under the influence of a substance. For your health try to think about safer sex practices before you short, sniff or swallow.
The AIDS Committee of Durham Region does not encourage or condone the use of substances. But if you are going to use, here are twelve things that the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) in New York have put together for you to think about.
- What goes up must come down - Before doing any drug, give some serious attention to how you're going to feel afterwards as well as when you're high. Both are part of the 'drug experience'.
- Know your own mind - What works for others may not work for you. If you've had anxiety attacks, a drug like K may seriously upset or disorient you. If you're prone to paranoia (like everyone's out to get you), Crystal may play into your fears. If you feel depressed now, you're really going to be bad coming down from coke. And so on.
- Take a body check - Look yourself over, before you start the party. Any cuts or sores that could let in HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STI's) will be harder to feel once you're wasted.
- Avoid mixing your medicines - Mixing drugs is self-prescribing, with lots of complicated cross-reactions and unknowns. It's much safer not to mix drugs with each other, or with alcohol. If you're on prescription medications, don't take any party drug, including alcohol, without a doctor's or pharmacists advice (yes, your doctor/pharmacist can tell you about what the effects might be of taking a little extra, less-than-legal medicine).
- Think twice before the second round - Have you really waited long enough to know how high you're going to feel from the first one?
- Avoid shooting - Except in the case of poppers, swallowing drugs is usually the safest, since it lets them work their way into your system gradually. Snorting is riskier and shooting or smoking drugs rushes them to the brain, which can make them more addictive and put you at greater risk of overdose (not to mention HIV, hepatitis and other complications of needle use). If you do use needles, get a clean, sterile one, and don't share. ACDR provides clean injection equipment free of charge and we take dirty needles for proper disposal - just stop by our offices.
- Treat yourself right - Think about how you act towards others, or how you let others treat you, when you're high. Do you even know? Do you have a friend or lover who can tell you honestly?
- Consider another way - How do you hope to feel on the drug? Are there any other times or ways you can get that feeling without getting high? Pursue those with the same focus it takes to find drugs.
- Stay flexible - Leave yourself the option of staying home, or of doing the party without doing the drugs if it doesn't feel right. Real friends will understand.
- Missing something? - If you're on HIV medications, expecially protease inhibitors, you're not likely to stay on schedule if you're tripping for eight hours. Missing doses makes the virus stronger.
- Remember HIV - Doing drugs brings down barriers. Plan ahead and don't let a latex or polythene barrier - a condom that can protect your health and your partner(s) - get lost in the process.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help - If you're in trouble on a drug, find a friend or a friendly face. If you have questions about the ways you are combining drugs, alcohol and sex, you can make changes. You don't need to be an alcoholic, a drug or sex addict to get the information you need. By talking about the sex you are having, what it means to you, and what it may cost you, it is possible to make partying - and sex - safer.
In addition to knowing what system of the body a drug works on, there's another important system to consider, the legal system. Alcohol is the only party drug approved for use in humans outside hospital, medical or laboratory setting and most other drugs are illegal. This means you may be adding risk of arrest to the other risks you take when you use them. It also means that these drugs are often coming out of somebody's homemade laboratory - meaning that there is no quality control over how they are cut or the different doses in each pill or bag of powder. Finally, manufacturers of legal drugs do not and are not required to test for bad interactions between their products and illegal drugs, which means you are taking a big risk when you mix party drugs together or take them with other, prescribed medications.
The AIDS Committee of Durham Region neither endorses nor encourages use of the drug(s) described. Possession, use, or sale of many party drugs is illegal, and may make you subject to arrest and/or imprisonment. Nothing contained here should be regarded in any way as a substitute for medical advice from a qualified physician who is familiar with all the details of your situation.
The use of substances to 'enhance' or 'heighten' your experience whether it be at the club or in the bedroom should be done without risking your health or life. It is a well known fact that when you are high often the last thing you are thinking about is safer sex, but you should. This information is supplied to help you have the knowledge to become empowered before you catch that Buzz, it's your health, your body, no one else is going to look after it like you will.