"OF THE MANY REASONS I had unsafe sex while high on crystal, I think the most profound was simply that I was lonely. Meth got me close to men at clubs and in bed. And unsafe sex allowed me the deepest connection possible"
~ Kevin Koffler [POZ magazine]
• Last updated February 20, 2007 (We regret that some elements of this section may be out of date)
"CRYSTAL METH is the newest and most important threat to the HIV epidemic in the US."
~ Dr. James Dilley [Director, University of San Francisco AIDS Health Project]
"I think the biggest single enemy of the gay community is crystal meth... In America the rising rates of HIV infections among young gays are almost all associated with crystal meth. So the real campaign should be against crystal meth."
~ Edmund White [Author]
METHAMPHETAMINE use among men who have sex with men (MSM) in North America up until the late-1990s was confined mostly to the AIDS-devastated district of West Hollywood, Los Angeles. Crystal, in its current form, has been readily available on the West Coast since the early 1980s, when a new way was found to replicate the drug's chemical structure using cheap industrial chemicals and household products.
Although crystal was being used by gay Californians to initiate, enhance and prolong sex, its constrictive effect on blood vessels made erections difficult to sustain for most users, rendering it unpopular with gay men elsewhere in the US. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, amphetamine use was cited in just 4% of drug-treatment admissions between 1986 and the first half of 1990, a figure which has since sky-rocketed.
In Los Angeles, meth was also being used as a means to surviving the ruthlessly competitive movie capital due to its ability to quell feelings of anxiety and inferiority, boost self-esteem and heighten sensory perception, enabling users to feel at ease in social situations and to improve attention and intensify their focus on whatever activity they engaged in. Also taken as an appetite suppressant among the image-obsessed, Hollywood producers, agents, writers, actors and "fashionistas" are all said to have embraced meth. David Foerster, of the substance abuse body The Foerster Group, claims to have placed several Hollywood luminaries in rehab. "The problem has gone from epidemic to pandemic," he says.
The catalyst for meth's viral-like spread throughout gay America and into mainstream society arrived in 1998 amid a blaze of publicity.
Originally intended to treat erectile dysfunction in older men caused by medical problems like diabetes and spinal cord damage, Pfizer soon realised the potential for marketing Viagra as a drug that men of all ages could use simply to enhance their ability to achieve and maintain an erection over long periods, and began advertising Viagra as a wonder sex drug. With the power to reverse the impotence-inducing effects of drugs and alcohol, Viagra also inadvertently provided the solution to "crystal dick", and it was the gay party circuit - intense, sexually-charged dance events held across America and attended by thousands of gay men from every metropolitan city and beyond - that provided the geographical network through which crystal, aided and abetted by Viagra, would explode into the new millennium. Indeed, the upward trajectory of meth abuse among American MSM can be more or less measured alongside the marketing hype that fueled Viagra's iconic rise...
"Pfizer's direct to consumer marketing of Viagra as a drug to enhance sexual performance aimed at men who don't necessarily suffer from erectile dysfunction is irresponsible, especially in light of the drug's known use as part of a 'circuit party cocktail' that is fueling the spread of STDs and HIV."
~ Michael Weinstein [President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation]
When taken together, the dramatic increase in heart rate and blood pressure can lead to cardiac arrest and death, and constant meth use can result in gradual loss of sex drive, erectile dysfunction and impotence with or without the aid of the little blue diamond-shaped pill. Nevertheless, seemingly overnight Viagra transformed "Tina" from a "trailer trash" drug into the ultimate aphrodisiac. And with meth's ability to melt away rational thought, suddenly, years of ingrained safe sex messages seemingly never existed.
While most gay men do not use crystal, it's easy to appreciate meth's appeal among the weaker-willed and more impressionable who are relentlessly and often mercilessly conditioned by society into believing the sex they innately desire is wrong.
"Few talk about how external and internalised homophobia, with its 'stigma-shame-acting out' nexus, might be the catalyst to crystal addiction and to risk-taking behaviors leading to HIV infection."
~ Jean Malpass [The Body]
Strong negative beliefs about who you are and your relationship with others lie at the root of depression. Loneliness, isolation and low perceptions of self-worth and body image fuel internal homophobia, feed
emotional insecurity and erode self-esteem, destroying one's ability to be naturally intimate with other people. Depression is up to six times higher among MSM and the trigger for aneasthetisingly addictive and destructive behaviours, which some realise in the habitual seeking out of risk-filled sexual situations that enable false intimacy.
In such situations, the advent of meth in recent years has been hailed as the ultimate liberator from the recurring, judgmental soundtrack of socially-conditioned shame and religiously-indoctrinated guilt, completely silencing the negative messages, disinhibiting the user and erasing all barriers, enabling him to connect and initiate anxiety-free and boundary-less sex with ease. Meth acts as an 'equaliser', allowing users to meet across social spectrums and divides like age, class, race and economics, devoid of the anxiety that can impede sexual performance or social interaction between strangers. Such is the low self-esteem and sense of self-attractiveness of some driven to using crystal that a glass pipe and gas lighter are often the first items to greet users on entering each others' homes, along with an unwritten rule of the drug's culture that verbal communication and eye contact are to be avoided at least until the drug's intoxicating effects kick in.
It would be wrong to use low self-esteem as the crutch for all gay men who use crystal meth. For some, meth underpins a culture of drug-fueled, reckless hedonism where peer and lifestyle pressure is the overriding factor for using. In such situations, meth is commonly introduced to unwitting first-timers and among reckless groups of friends as a "fun drug" or energiser, with no warning given or attention paid to its addictive qualities or devastating side effects, enabling users to party endlessly and feel exhilarated, loved and accepted. Those fully aware of the dangers may nevertheless decide to take a calculated risk to use, particularly in what they perceive to be a controlled situation, while others who harbour a deep-rooted, unrealised desire to bareback may use crystal fully conscious of the fact that it will tempt them into breaking that taboo.
According to the Centres for Disease Control & Prevention, 15-17% of all gay men used crystal meth in the three months to August 2005. It is estimated that 30% of all gay men in the US have tried meth at some stage.