The truth about love and relationships on ‘ice’

The truth about love and relationships on ‘ice’

Trigger warning: the following material may trigger or elicit cravings if you have had an issue with substance abuse.

GAY and bisexual men using crystal meth often develop fleeting relationships with each other that are exclusively focused on sex. Matthew Wade spoke to men about these unique relationships and how ice can also affect the relationships gay men have with their friends and family.

 Finding a park bench in Sydney to sleep on every night, Alonso* was 15-years-old and homeless when he first tried crystal meth.

He’d been abandoned by his mother and was hungry, with little money for food.

A friend in the city offered him a place to crash and meth to keep his appetite satiated. Alonso swiftly began smoking it every day.

“I went from living in the Western suburbs of Sydney to being surrounded by a shitload of gay people who were all using drugs,” he told the Star Observer.

“I didn’t have a connection to my family anymore and my entire social circle had changed to revolve around drug use and being gay.

“I’d spend ten hours jerking off in front of the computer and my friend would do the same in his room – and when I overstayed my welcome I moved in with the drug dealer downstairs.”

Drugs have been loosely tied to gay culture in Australia for a long time, in the form of an ecstasy pill taken before a night on the dance floor or a sniff of amyl to heighten one’s sexual pleasure.

They create fleeting and illusory bonds between gay men and can hold their users in a drug-fuelled bubble for hours on end until the sun rises.

But crystal meth is different. It has created an entirely new, intensified, and at times dangerous subculture for gay and bisexual men, one often predicated exclusively on sex.

Crystal meth itself is a crystallised form of methamphetamine and can be heated and smoked in a glass pipe, crushed up and snorted, or injected intravenously, depending on the high you’re after.

It releases dopamine into the part of the brain that regulates feelings of pleasure and pushes one’s sex hormones into overdrive.

It has also become a key player in the subculture around chemsex.

“A lot of people find sexual encounters awkward, but if you’re cracked off your head you don’t care about social cues, you’re just going off of pleasure with the person you’ve just met,” Alonso said.

“At a sex-on-premises venue you start talking to people and before you know it you’re in a room smoking meth with strangers, leaving every now and then to find someone to have sex with, before reconvening to smoke again.”

Gay men using crystal meth form unique relationships with each other that are both innately intimate and detached at the same time, with sex always at the fore.

Whether they’re navigated via hook-up apps – ‘party and play’ often identifies one’s interest in chemsex – or in queer spaces, men often develop these brief and amorous bonds until the sex or the high has ended.

Alonso said men engaging in chemsex develop relationships with each other that solely revolve around meth, often meeting up under the guise of a social call despite both parties knowing it will purely be to take drugs.

“Gay men find it difficult to connect with other gay men – but when you have the drug use in common, it gives you confidence and releases that barrier,” he said.

“In my case it was often unspoken, not ‘let’s meet up for drugs’ but more like oh you’re here, let’s smoke.

“It opened us up to chat our jaws away through the night and to have sex, even if I wasn’t necessarily sexually attracted to these people.”

Chemsex enables men to form temporary relationships with each other centred on the drug, using chems and each other as a means to have longer and more enduring sex without the necessity of ever getting off.

Indulging in fantasy during the high, once the session has ended the men involved may never see each other again.

And with apps like Grindr or Scruff, one’s next hit could be less than a kilometre away.

While Alonso no longer uses crystal meth and found it relatively easily to stop, he said he has on occasion met up with someone on Grindr for sex on chems.

Earlier this year someone went to his house and injected crystal meth intravenously before the pair had sex.

“When gay men accept their sexuality, they often accept the likelihood that they aren’t going to procreate, they might not get married, and they may not even end up in a long term relationship,” he said.

“On top of that every time you have sex without a condom you worry you’ll get a virus or disease, so it creates a culture where many men don’t give a fuck about their health.

“And unfortunately more and more men are moving on from poppers [amyl] to crystal meth.

“But while our relationships with the people in our lives aren’t always altered, we develop new social relationships with other gay men that are all about the drug.”

As someone who has worked in gay men’s health for 25 years, Bill O’Loughlin believes that at the centre of these new social relationships is a very sophisticated understanding of drugs and the experiences one will have on them.

So much so that men will form temporary relationships with other men and co-ordinate their drug use together to elevate their shared experience. And it doesn’t always end with crystal meth.

The night may be fuelled by meth, then tempered with Gina [GHB] to round it out, before using ketamine to intensify it – an itinerary that gay men may alter each time but follow alongside each other.

“Men on a meth binge will end up hooking up with each other and because you’re in this suspended state, you’ll stay at someone’s place for a couple of days,” O’Loughlin said.

“There will be people coming and going and you’ll never have met them before, and you probably don’t have anything in common, but suddenly you’re stuck together.”

When he first tried crystal meth, O’Loughlin thought he’d taken speed [powdered amphetamine] but after a few days of being hypersexual he realised he’d taken something far stronger and intense.

And while he’d have sex with other men, some of whom had lined up various other men to sleep with over the course of the day, the experience alarmed him and he didn’t take it regularly.

“You can function reasonably well up to a certain extent on it, so I’d use it on the weekend and feel rat shit on Monday and Tuesday, but I’d manage,” he said.

However, being a highly addictive stimulant, not all men’s experiences with crystal meth are like this.

While an insular community and subculture can develop between gay men through chemsex, when it becomes a serious problem the relationships gay men hold outside of this bubble can also be severely affected.

“I’m aware that a lot of gay men are experiencing problems with meth and it’s something that doesn’t get spoken about,” O’Loughlin said.

“I think that’s partly because we don’t want to stigmatise ourselves but also because there’s a lot of shame heaped on people who use meth.

“Gay men who become highly addicted to meth stop socialising with friends, they get into trouble at work… which can quickly turn into real trouble, where they’ve lost their job, their apartment, and their friends.

“It’s not unusual to hear that these men have gone back to their parents’ home to recover.”

O’Loughlin added that it’s often hard for men to reconstruct their lives as gay men after they’ve been involved in close relationships with other meth users and neglected others in their lives.

“You’ll hear them say they don’t know how to have sex without it, and will say they don’t know how to stop, because they own a phone and within 10 – 15 minutes they can be right back in the middle of it,” he said.

At the peak of his crystal meth addiction Luke Williams’ relationship with those in his life was heavily affected as he descended into psychosis, believing people close to him were trying to poison him.

“I thought there was a paedophile ring being run out of my local coffee club and that a woman visiting my house was my ex post-sex reassignment surgery as well,” he said.

“My friends were like you’re freaking us out, we don’t understand what’s wrong, your behaviour’s weird.

“I didn’t realise how much the drug had affected me until long after I moved back in with my parents.”

Williams recently wrote the book The Ice Age chronicling his experience with meth, from his first foray with speed at his ‘rough as guts’ high school through to the intravenous crystal meth use he became addicted to while researching a story on it.

He believes the majority of people taking crystal meth aren’t violent or winding up in hospital, and that it’s the mental health impacts of the drug that primarily affect gay men and their relationships with those around them.

“Since about 2011 the powdered meth we were using in Australia was replaced with crystallised meth and its purity increased – but people still use it the same way they would ecstasy or cocaine,” he said.

“And the problem for the everyday ice user, because of how strong it is, is depression and anxiety.

“It cuts into your life and takes quality away from the relationships in it in a more subtle way.

“You might continue using the drug and think you’re okay because you don’t have scabs on your face but it still might be making you feel anxious and depressed, and you stop striving for the natural things that bring you happiness like your relationships with friends and family.”

For Williams it was a cycle of addiction.

“The more meth I used, the worse my anxiety got, and the worse my anxiety got, the more meth I used.”

Crystal meth may at times create fleeting relationships between gay men around the drug and at other times negatively impact the relationships gay men have with family and friends, but all three interviewees agreed: stigma helps to prevent crystal meth users from seeking support if they need it or education around safer drug use.

“We need to provide clear information saying this is what crystal meth does, this is how it’s different to other drugs, these are the pros and cons, and here’s what you can do if you want or need help,” Williams said.

If you’re seeking support and would like more information on crystal meth, visit The Institute of Many (TIM)’s online resource.

*Alonso’s name was changed to protect his privacy.

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