Anyone want to party and play?
Though it sounds like a harmless question to ask—maybe a little tongue-in-cheek among adults—you might be surprised to find out that “party and play” is code for getting high on crystal meth in, what’s most likely, a gay orgy.
Truly, “party and play” is some next-level adventure that may be a little too wild.
Yet, while this sounds like the kind of premise for Law & Order to exaggerate and misconstrue, the reality of party and play within the gay community can be a dark tale of drug and sex addiction, loneliness, and a desperate search for finding a sense of belonging in the world.
A subculture on the rise in recent years, men who dabble in party and play are quickly finding themselves falling into a trap of exhilarating highs and numbing lows, caught with their emotions as they face psycho-social issues, like internalized homophobia, and wonder if life and sex can ever feel normal—and for that matter, good?
What is “party and play”?
Party and play, otherwise known as “PnP,” is a common slang term among gay men that refers to using drugs as an enhancement to a sexual experience. First, you party (take drugs), and then you play (have sex). Also known as “chemsex” in other parts of the world, like the UK, PnP generally involves crystal meth as the main substance being used for sex, but can also include mephedrone, GHB/GBL, and ecstasy.
In a nutshell, these drugs serve two purposes: to make you feel relaxed, but also to give you one heck of an energy kick, which both work great when you’re trying to get it on with the hottie you met at the club, and you’re not sure if he’s a top or a bottom. Even better if you’ve landed yourself in a Dionysian fest of toned men revved up and ready to go—for days, that is.
That’s right. When it comes to a chemsex party, the main objective is to get high and have sex for as long as you can last with as many partners as you’d like, which for some wild folk means going on a five-day marathon sextravaganza while blasted out of their minds. Sounds like a fun time until the drug side effects start to kick in after the third or fourth day of not sleeping, eating, or drinking water. All’s fun and games until people find themselves overdosing, having heart attacks, and getting a not-so-friendly STD party favor. Bit of a night-ruiner.
Chemsex: sexual issue, drug problem
An anonymous writer submitted an article to the Evening Standard about his personal experience with party and play, describing some of the consequences of drug use at chemsex parties:
“There are three prevalent drugs on the chemsex party scene: methedrone, GHB, and crystal meth. Used in various combinations, they enable you to have sex for hours, inhibiting ejaculation. They can turn sex into a marathon of Roman decadence, but there are dangers: you tend to lose your judgment and can end up sleeping with someone you wouldn’t look at twice in a club; your sexual inhibitions can be significantly lowered to the point of becoming blasé about unprotected sex. When consumed in excessive amounts—or combined with alcohol—G [GHB/GBL] can also lead to blackouts or fits, referred to as ‘going under’ or ‘G-ing out.’”
–“Drug-fuelled ‘chemsex’ party survivor: I woke up naked on the sofa—I had no idea where I was.” Evening Standard.
Despite the positive tone to “party and play,” gay men aren’t downing feel-good candies and love syrups to have a good time—they’re downing toxic drug-fueled cocktails that are over-stimulating their hearts and nervous systems as their good judgment gets thrown out the window.
If you go to a chemsex party, plenty of anecdotal evidence will assure you that seeing someone overdose on crystal meth and GHB is common. Particularly with GHB/GBL, simply referred to as G among users, vomiting is a frequent result for people who mix it with their alcohol beverages. And if users put the slightest bit more of a dosage than they can handle, they are bound to “go under” and fall into, what is called, a “G sleep” and pass out. As such, people who become unconscious run the risk of choking to death on their own vomit.
With meth specifically, the consequences are more severe, allowing users to develop brain damage over time, over-stimulate their hearts into stopping altogether, or deteriorate their bodies (such as rotting their teeth and scarring their skin). Great highs also come with great lows, putting users at risk of falling into suicidal depression or anxiety, or paranoid psychosis from prolonged meth use. What began as an all-body thrilling experience will quickly turn into a panic attack about being monitored by the government. For others, the crash will influence the user to induce more drugs just to function throughout the day, which is why some partygoers go to work high to maintain their jobs.
But when it comes to addiction, it doesn’t matter what the consequences are when the high gives you mind-blowing, arousal-for-hours, life-changing sex. Crystal meth is a seductive drug that can convince a person into believing the man he’s sleeping with at the moment is truly the love of his life and, even though he’s been trying to orgasm for five hours straight, he’s feeling amazing.
Sexual dependence on drugs becomes a large issue within this gay subculture, naturally. Some men begin to associate their sexual satisfaction with their drug highs, finding it difficult to separate the two.
“I think you get into this pattern and sex goes hand-in-hand with crystal [meth]. You associate it so strongly with sex,” said Alex Bartzis, an experienced, Australian party and player who spoke with ABC about the subject. “It’s associated with this really intense rush that it triggers an urge or desire to use crystal.”
For men in the LGBTQ+ community, crystal meth soared around the turn of the millennium, particularly in the Los Angeles area. Two separate clinical studies monitored the meth use patterns among substance-using gay and bisexual men, noting a high percentage in the early 2000s (50 percent in LA and 13.8 percent in New York) that would drop by 2011, but then show an alarming rise again by 2014. Meth was back on the gay scene.
And though numbers were comparatively lower than other substance rates within the LGBTQ+ community, the societal alarm went off when the correlation between meth use and the spread and contraction of HIV became much less of a suspicion and more of a determining factor.
Party and play—then pay the consequences of STDs
The dangers of contracting HIV while being high on methamphetamines is obvious, and many party and play-goers understand this. So while there is a serious concern about HIV-negative men who engage in chemsex parties via unprotected sex, a larger concern focuses on men who are already HIV positive and continue to practice unsafe activities.
Reports from the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study revealed that men who were HIV positive were twice as likely to use meth as HIV-negative men and “formed the core of the meth-sex underground.”
Perry Halkitis, a veteran gay-health researcher at New York University, rationalized this phenomenon by pointing out the stigma HIV-positive men feel within every community they are involved in, no matter their sexuality, race, or age. Party and play events serve as a “safe haven” of sorts for HIV-positive men, who reason that one cannot reinfect someone and thus have more sexual freedom with other HIV-positive partners.
“For HIV-negative men, crystal is about socialization—about meeting guys, maybe having sex, but mainly to overcome social anxiety,” said Halkitis in an article with TalkingDrugs. “For HIV-positive men, crystal is specifically about sex, about feeling hot, desirable, and finding a mental space where there is no HIV.”
This doesn’t factor in contracting other STDs (e.g. gonorrhea, chlamydia, or hepatitis C) or falling victim to sexual assault while under the influence, but this mentality does show insight into the generational development among modern-day gay and bisexual men. While HIV is still largely regarded as a life-changing tragedy, in an age past the AIDS epidemic of the ‘80s, the virus is no longer considered an immediate death sentence, but a treatable (though expensive) disease.
“Here we are, all of a sudden having to deal with the fact that we’re going to live, and we’re dealing with midlife crises at the same time, because we’re turning 40,” said Peter Staley, an AIDS survivor with a history of meth addiction, in a PBS interview for documentary, The Meth Epidemic. “I mean, we have to be upfront about the fact that this is a heavily damaged group of men.”
Where the psychology of drug and sex addiction comes to play
But why meth? It’s a question being asked when the consequences and stakes are high enough to ruin a man’s life.
Dr. Adam Bourne, a lecturer and researcher on the subject at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, suggests the choice for crystal meth and its associate drug pairings has everything to do with the insecurities within the gay community. In a report he published in the British Medical Journal, he emphasized the severity of chemsex/party and play as a “big problem, among a relatively small number of people.”
“Not all gay men use drugs. And not all gay men who use drugs engage in chemsex. And not all gay men who engage in chemsex engage in risky things,” stressed Bourne in his report. “Some [men] are using these drugs to manage negative feelings, such as a lack of confidence and self-esteem, internalized homophobia, and stigma about their HIV status.”
In the States, David Fawcett, chairman of “No More Meth” and psychotherapist in Wilton Manors, Fla., backs up this theory of why gay men are attracted to meth in an article by The Fix, asserting that gay men are trying to block out social insecurities.
“There’s something called cognitive escapism; it’s the numbing out of uncomfortable feelings,” Fawcett told The Fix. “Meth comes along and neutralizes a lot of feelings and energizes these people. Initially, meth makes them feel attractive, makes them not care what other people think.”
Todd Connaughty, director of clinical services at the Pride Institute in Minnesota, also added that underlying issues within the gay male perspective need to be observed to understand the dynamics of their drug and sex addiction. He said to begin the recovery process, gay men need to focus on “the validation they get, the sense of intimacy, the increased confidence, and then look at how to create that without the use of methamphetamines and sexual activity.”
When the party stops, men must relearn how to have safe sex
Men who engaged in party and play events realize early on that if they want to begin recovery for their meth addiction, it goes hand-in-hand with overcoming a sex addiction as well. Because sex and meth are psychologically related in their minds, recovery for most gay men requires abstinence for a good amount of time (at least six months to a year); otherwise, they risk triggering a relapse.
“You get to the point where you want to have sex, and you relapse,” said Peter Staley in his PBS interview. “You go back to the drug in order to have sex. This is one of the reasons getting off the drug for many gay men is very, very hard.”
In the beginning, sex won’t feel nearly as good as it did on meth. The sensations and intimacies are much different sober, but the efforts of gaining healthy relationships with an equally healthy sex life and self-image will prove worth it. The party may be over, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to stop.
Here at Elevate Recovery Center, we invite all people of different sexualities and genders to seek treatment for their substance abuse addictions at our facility, where you will be surrounded by loving and understanding staff members to help you toward recovery.
Our treatment representatives are available 24-7 to discuss plan options for your needs. Call (844) 318-0073 and begin the exciting life of sobriety today!