Party Boys - Drink, Drugs, Sex, Repeat... Words by Stuart Haggas | @GetStuartPhoto by Chris Jepson: www.chrisjepson.com Life can be tough in the 21st century. Whether you’re barely keeping it together on minimum wage, or flush with an obscene banker’s bonus, the working week can consist of long hours, monotony, anxiety, deadlines, intense stress, lack of appreciation or recognition from your boss… no wonder that many of us can’t wait for the weekend! That ‘Friday feeling’ can be irresistible even to those of us who love our jobs. Because no matter what we do for a living, and regardless of whether or not we enjoy what we do, at the end of the day it can be liberating to let your hair down, let off steam and let loose. There are however some guys who let loose with an extreme level of enthusiasm and dedication. Guys who enjoy copious alcohol and/or drug consumption, combined with as much casual sex as possible. Guys who frequent sex parties, gay saunas, and bar and club darkrooms in search of group sex and gangbangs. Guys who don’t just like to party – they live to party whether it’s good for their health or not.WORK HARD, PLAY HARD It may sound like a cliché from Thatcher-era Britain, but the concept of ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ remains a mantra for many. And for some gay men, this equates to weekends full of booze, drugs and sex. Then more booze, drugs and sex. So what’s the appeal of this vice-heavy approach to playtime? “It’s a release from the stresses of normal life,” says Jay, 20 from Glasgow. “It lets the steam off from a hard working week,” says Dave, 36 from Essex. “It gives escape from work and gives me the chance to forget all my worries,” agrees Dean, 41 from Edinburgh. “It’s why I work so hard,” admits Joseph, 26 from Harrow. “The experience of it all,” says Joe, 23 from London, “and living life to its fullest while I still can.” “The shrieking void and absurd realities of daily life go away for a few days,” adds Mateus, 30 from London. “It gives me confidence. I enjoy the attention, and I feel the need as I get older to let off steam and de-stress,” says Glen, 32 from Kent. “I wouldn’t get the same feeling from a one-on-one or a relationship.” “The ability to let your hair down and be yourself, no worrying about that deadline etc,” says Cian, 28 from London. “Plus you get your rocks off – a lot! That’s always good!” SAFE SPACE TO PARTY It’s not just about de-stressing or escaping the realities of work. For some guys, sex parties, group sex and sex club/darkroom sex enable them to experiment or to fulfil specific sexual needs. The guys we spoke to used words like uninhibited, intense, randomness, anonymous, unadulterated, horned, relaxed, safe and non-judgemental when describing why they like to party. “Being able to relax with other like-minded guys for the same reasons. No judgement, no hang-ups,” says Cian. “Most people know their limits, and even if they do overdo it a bit, you’ll find the other guys (who are often total strangers) will look out for one another and try to keep each other safe.” “If done safely, I don’t see why it is necessarily bad,” adds Paul, 35 from London, “providing no-one is being forced to do anything. It allows me to fulfil a lust that would otherwise leave me frustrated and depressed, if I couldn’t have the type of sex I wanted.” “If I’m curious about something – a sex act, an attractive man on Grindr, a new drug – I want to try it,” explains Linton, 30 from Brighton. “Not in a dangerous way, as safe as possible, and sex parties feel safe compared with cruising grounds. It’s open, honest, and I feel more protected at a sex party as usually most people are there under a mutual agreement. It’s like the sex party code. You look out for everyone. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but like any social scenario you learn to protect yourself.” “I can meet guys without having to work the internet,” says Charlie from London. “If the chemistry isn’t right, then I can easily disengage, whereas if you’ve gone to someone’s home it’s quite embarrassing to do this.” “I feel completely satisfied as I blow a load,” Linton continues, “and it’s all been good honest fun between consenting adults. Everyone wants to relax once in a while, I just like my relaxation to include lots of cock and chemicals.” ALL OR NOTHING Plenty of us have, on occasion, consumed too much alcohol, or got trashed on drugs, or ended up having several casual sex encounters over a few short days and been unable to remember all of their names. But for the typical party boy, this isn’t a list of individual misdemeanours – it’s their Friday night itinerary (to be repeated Saturday and Sunday). A problem with this all-or-nothing approach is just that. It’s all. Or nothing. Because some guys may start to find they can’t have one without the other. “At 56 Dean Street we have hundreds of guys presenting each month who are unable to have sober sex,” explains health advisor David Stuart. “This problem, though under-researched and documented, is a huge problem for gay men. Most of these guys are using drugs/alcohol in a recreational, not physically addictive way. I’ve no doubt that some targeted therapy can help a guy to learn to have sober sex again, and enjoy it, but it’s not an exact science and very deep-rooted. “We’re a population of guys who often have a complicated relationship to sex, relationships and intimacy,” David continues. “Muddling that up further with too-frequent drug/alcohol use for sex just isn’t going to help. Ask yourself, what percentage of your sex life is sober; then ask what percentage you’d like it to be, and work towards making that happen.” SOBER SEX? Of the guys we spoke to about their experiences, several identified with the issues around sober sex and partying. “I wouldn’t do these things sober,” says JD, 30 from London. “Drugs allow me to feel sexual and confident enough to do it. They are integral to the experience. The sense of exhilaration and excitement. The enhanced sense of intimacy with other guys. Greatly enhanced senses, so everything feels more intense – especially sex.” Afterwards, JD admits to ultimately feeling disappointed, as well as irrationally lonely, depressed and anxious. “The comedown lasts a week. There’s a high risk of STIs and poor decisions, damaging for body, mind and finances. But when the hangover/ comedown is over, it becomes attractive again.” “The lack of inhibition over 12 to 36 hours with a group of handsome young men who seem as lost as me is really compelling. I spend 95% of the time talking shit, flirting, groping, and maybe 5% of it actually engaged in any hardcore activity,” says Mateus. “Being wired and horny is stupidly compelling and therefore addictive. It is definitely an improvement on more sober encounters. Sad.” “The question you should always ask yourself is ‘does this make me happy?’” says GMFA’s Matthew Hodson. “For some guys, partying the weekend away is their reward for the slog of a week’s work. But for some that experience swiftly turns sour. They may have a massive comedown during their working week, which makes their job seem even more hateful. The highs don’t usually get better. If your partying isn’t making you happy then you probably want to think about what you could do instead, rather than trying to do more of the same thing.” COMEDOWN Mateus goes on to say that, for him, the comedowns are less and less worth it. In fact, although 26% of those we spoke to said this kind of sex leaves them fully satisfied (using words like ‘euphoric’, ‘liberated’ and ‘fucking fabulous’), 46% enjoy the experience while in the moment, and almost 30% admitted that they ultimately feel disappointed (using words like ‘tired’, ‘lonely’ and ‘depressed’). “It makes you feel satisfied for a short period, but then I just feel used, abused and dirty,” says Michael, 27 from London. “It can be fun, and addictive,” says Ben, 34 from Fife, “but can leave you feeling empty and guilty.” “At the time: great, elated awesome,” says David from Hertfordshire. “Afterwards: regret, shame, skint, hungry, weak.” “Euphoric at first, then a massive comedown,” says Jay. “It makes you think less about risk, and who you are with, more about the intensity of the pleasure. Feeling guilty afterwards is a negative. And the need to get tested more often.” “There are many good and bad points about this kind of ‘over indulgence’,” adds Cian. “Of course, the comedown, hangover, or whatever isn’t the most wonderful feeling in the world, but you learn your own way to deal with it. Mostly some stodgy food and some sort of sleep will do the trick!” RISKS This kind of partying comes with risks that far outweigh a mere hangover. “The more obvious risks are the STIs and the harm that drugs and alcohol can cause,” says 56 Dean Street’s David Stuart. “While disinhibited, we can feel invulnerable to pain and be blissfully in denial of consequences. Our floodgates to sexual fantasies are well open; we’re less choosy, we’re capable of sex that lasts longer and might be rougher and/or involve loads of other guys. We can make in-the-moment choices about condomless sex, trust people who believe they have undetectable viral loads, and take greater, sexier risks.” “If you have lots of sex with lots of different guys in a short period of time, your risk of picking up an STI is going to be greatly increased,” adds GMFA’s Matthew Hodson. “Some infections thrive in sex party situations, such as Hep C, which can be transmitted from one bottom to another if a guy fucks two guys in turn, or if they share a sex toy. Shigella and gonorrhoea are also associated with sex party or other group sex scenes. “It’s not only your sexual health that you’re putting at risk from a big party,” Matthew continues. “Gay men are more likely to suffer illness as a result of their alcohol use than our hetero brothers. The guidelines say than men shouldn’t regularly consume more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day. Depressingly, that’s only one and a half pints, or one large glass of wine. If you go on a big boozy bender you’re likely to get through your recommended weekly units of alcohol in a single night – and this will have an impact on your liver and on your heart. Similarly, with the party drugs, they’re typically hard for the body to process and they will have an impact, even if you’re not aware of it for many years. And it’s very easy to get hooked on some of these drugs, to become dependent on them for sex or good times, which can have a devastating impact on your emotional health.” “The choices we make in these moments about drugs can also be risky,” David adds. “Mixing certain drugs can be very dangerous, like GBL and alcohol. Taking certain drugs when dehydrated or in a hot environment like a sauna can increase the chances of harm. Being drunk and choosing to accept drugs from another guy without being sure of what drug, or the amount we’re taking, can also be very dangerous.” SIDE EFFECTS Drugs can have other detrimental effects, as Cian elaborates. “Some drugs make it difficult to get a full erection,” he says, “but they do give a euphoric feeling that can make you feel more attracted to those around you. Of course, overdoing it can put a bit of a hold on things as you become over-stimulated and can’t concentrate on one thing for a long period. You often find yourself flitting around with your arms and legs flailing, chewing your face off, and making weird noises with your lips.” “They give you more confidence, but ultimately the sex is usually worse. And erratic,” adds Peter, 24 from London. “The only good thing is the 5-second orgasm – when you can actually cum. Bad things: detrimental to health, mental state, sex drive. Leaves you sitting in the GUM clinic scared for your wellbeing.” NOTHING TO LOSE? I had been curious about such events, but felt in my twenties that I was a bit of a square so to speak,” admits David, 35 from Dublin. “Before getting HIV I would have never considered such parties. Once I got HIV I felt that I had nothing else to lose. But ultimately I’ve had further medical complications. Also it does not help with one’s mental wellbeing. That said, I have been to parties that have been good fun – but when I walked back out into the world, it was quite a reality check!” “Part of the problem is that HIV has been considered ‘the big one’ for so long, the virus that must be avoided at all costs. This has left some people who are diagnosed positive with the feeling that there’s no reason to be safe any more, that the worst has already happened,” explains GMFA’s Matthew Hodson. “The truth is that with medication and care, you can have a normal life expectancy with HIV. But living with this virus means that you may need to take extra care of your health, including looking after your liver and heart, if you want to live a full and healthy life.” PrEP WORK So how can we enjoy a party while minimising the risks to our mental and sexual health? “One way you can reduce your risks is to plan what parties you go to carefully,” says Matthew Hodson. “Some parties are strictly condoms only, at others condoms are forbidden. If you don’t want to risk the STIs you can pick up from unprotected sex, make it clear when you’re looking out for party invites. Or host your own party.” “It’s a good idea to plan ahead in advance of a big weekend of partying,” agrees David Stuart. “Guys who buy or are in charge of their own drugs (and their own dosing) usually end up suffering less harm than the guys who accept drugs from other guys – often in dark sex clubs, saunas, toilet cubicles or on dancefloors. Setting our boundaries around what we will and won’t do sexually ought to be done in advance, when we’re sober; it increases the chances of adhering to those boundaries, even when we’re off our nut at 9am on a Sunday morning.” “The problem with many drugs, including alcohol, is that however good your intentions, you may find yourself not sticking to the limits that you set yourself when sober,” Matthew adds. “But if you think about what triggers those times that you overstep your own limits, and think about how it made you feel afterwards, you can learn better what situations to avoid.” “At our chemsex clinics at 56 Dean Street, we help guys set boundaries like how long they want to stay awake for, what they want their weekend to be like, what kind of sex they want, what drugs work best for them and which ones they’ll say no to,” David explains. “And importantly, having the skills to communicate these boundaries to strangers and shags, even though it may bring about rejection. As well as all the usual harm reduction tools for playing and shagging on chems.” SHED THE STIGMA AND SHAME “We are a community of people who live with a higher risk of HIV, hepatitis C, STIs, problematic drug use and mental health,” says David, “so we need to be more vigilant. We need to shed the stigma and shame, and take ownership of our sexual desires. This means talking about them more, to each other, shags and mates. I don’t care how anonymous your next shag will be – take the time to discuss your health, desires and boundaries, and listen to his. It’ll make for a much healthier, sexier and horny time, I promise.” YOUR GUIDE TO BEING A SAFER PARTY BOY Your sex life is your own business and if you want to shag 100 people a week via sex clubs, sex parties or in darkrooms then that’s your decision and no-one should make you feel bad about it. However with every sexual act comes a risk of picking up an STI or HIV. So here’s a little guide on how to minimise the risk of picking up an STI or becoming HIV-positive. Condoms: Using condoms while having sex is still one of the best ways to avoid becoming HIV-positive. And don’t forget the lube. Condoms break up to 6% of the time, but using plenty of water-based lube can help prevent this. If you are in a group sex situation then you should use a new condom with every partner. If you are in a group sex situation where you are having sex without condoms, then there are ways you can reduce the risk of HIV: Partner selection: “I only sleep with HIV-negative guys.” Do you know that about 80% of new HIV infections come from having unprotected sex with guys who think they are HIV-negative? If someone has recently been infected then they will not know their status, but their viral load will be very high, making them more likley to pass on HIV without knowing. So asking or assuming someone is negative and then making your decision based on that is not the best way to remain HIV-negative. Can I have bareback sex with someone who is HIV-positive? Gay men who are HIV-positive and are on medication are less likely to pass on HIV. This is because the medication that they are on helps to reduce the amount of HIV in their body. It’s not impossible for them to pass on HIV but it’s unlikely if they are undetectable. HIV-positive? Don’t forget your pills: If you are HIV-positive, on medication and likely to go to chillouts/sex parties then it’s best you get into a habit of bringing your medication with you. Wrap up some pills in some cling-film and keep it in your pocket. A quick hook-up can easily turn into a three-night-session. This way you decrease the risk of missing your medication - which can cause your viral load to rise making you infectious. Pulling out before cumming: Letting him cum inside you is very risky. Your anal canal soaks up the cum very fast. If he has HIV in his cum then the chances of him passing it on to you are extremely high. HIV is also in pre-cum so there is still a risk even if he pulls out. PEP: If you have unprotected sex with someone who you think is positive, or if you’re not sure of their status, then PEP is available from your local GUM clinic or A&E department. PEP, which is a month-long course of medication, may stop you becoming positive if you start to take it within 72 hours of exposure and keep to the medication for the whole course. PrEP: Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a promising new way of preventing HIV infections. PrEP involves HIV-negaitive men taking a daily dose of one or two of the drugs that are used to treat HIV. Studies suggest that this can prevent infection if the user is exposed to HIV. At present in the UK PrEP is only available to men in a clinical trial with the PROUD study. To keep up-to-date with PrEP, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/prep. Test for HIV and STIs: Having an STI can make you more vulnerable to HIV infection. All sexually active gay men should test for STIs at least once a year. If you are having lots of sex, and especially if you are having lots of unprotected sex, then you should test more frequently. It takes roughly 10 days for most STIs to show up in a test. It takes about four weeks for HIV to show up in a test. More information www.gmfa.org.uk/condoms-and-lube. www.gmfa.org.uk/pep. To find your nearest GUM clinic, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/clinics.