I think if my little sister was having sex with dozens of men a month, and using drugs most of those times, I’d say yeah; little sis, you have a chemsex problem.
But for gay men, casual sex and drugs are such a normal part of our social vocabulary and lifestyle, preaching sobriety and monogamy is something that can get you chastised by fellow activists and hounded by trolls on social media.
So does that make me a prude? Does it make me misogynistic? Does it make me the betrayer of all the freedoms gay men have fought for, for decades?
I don’t want to be any of those things. I just want to be a good big brother, frankly. And I’ve no problem extending a protective big-brotherly concern toward my gay brethren struggling with 21st century hooking-up technology, a lack of any gay moral compass, and emerging from three decades of HIV panic. If my little sister had experienced puberty in a climate of normalised (even righteous) promiscuity, had a childhood experience of perceived rejection and exclusion, and poor experience of the relationship models she aspired to; if she lived outside any religious guidelines and if there was no historical context for her to model her lifestyle upon, I’d extend that big brotherly arm of protection as widely and safely around her as I possibly could.
But gay men are not little girls, nor is it my grandiose self-appointed job to dictate how we live our lives. My opinion is clearly tainted by having worked with thousands of gay Londoners who struggle with unhappy, chem-fuelled sex lives, all losing interest in (or the ability to have) sober sex at all; all having very rare experiences of happy relationships and seeking affirmation and inclusion from that glorious short-lived rush of feeling sexy, wanted and valuable within the frame of a chem-sex bender. Then dealing with the consequences alone, and often isolated. Until the next weekend.
Denial can be a bitch though. There’s something insidious about drug use, in that we have this phenomenal ability to only remember the first hour of a high, or to re-act to a trigger without any conscious consideration of the consequences. I have never met a drug user who was challenged head on about having a problem, who didn’t react defensively.
The first and golden rule of behaviour change, is that you can’t force change on anyone. And there’s something kind of wrong and arrogant of us to want to force change upon someone. It’s born of subjective assumptions, and it’s the opposite of freedom of choice; and one might say that freedom of choice is the thing that has defined the gay rights movement.
The best interpretation of drug use support for our liberated gay community therefore, must be to make up our own individual minds about whether we have a problem. A difficult task, with denial being so linked to drug use, but we’re clever people, survivors even, having demonstrated our ability to define our own lifestyles amid a sea of risk, stigma and bigotry.
So don’t let any friend, columnist, or health promotion campaign tell you, you have a problem; be your own judge. Here’s a checklist, as a guide.
Remember too, that seeking support from a health advisor at your local sexual health clinic or drug service need only be about your own goals. While most clinics have non-judgemental health advisor teams on staff, it might not always be the case; if you feel the advisor has their own idea of what’s best for you, simply leave and seek support elsewhere. Antidote at London Friend, 56 Dean Street, and CODE Clinic remain the three London services with the longest track record of non-judgemental support around chem-sex open to people regardless of where they live, and with simple, walk-in access.
Be well, be conscious of what you’re doing, and don’t stop seeking the awesome sex/romantic life you are entitled to and deserve.