Land of Oz: Sex, Drugs and HIV
You are in the bar. The music is pumping; your heart is racing. The body that you have worked out all winter is revealing its bulging mass and silky tight skin. You walk towards the back of the bar while noticing that everyone's eyes are on you. A couple of guys smile and give you the quick "once over." They smile more. You know, they like what they see. It's hard to believe that just a couple of months ago you were overweight and out of shape. But the weight has vanished after trips to the gym and with the help of your "little friend." Oh, what you wouldn't do for your little friend.
You walk to the bar and order bottled water. Your friend only likes water. Anything else makes your friend dull, makes your friend feel fat, makes your friend ugly. You can hear your friend screaming in your pocket. But you patiently wait for the music to get better. More drums, more bass, more lights. You walk around the bar to see if you can find anyone who sparks your interest. You can feel people's eyes follow you, you can feel their eyes undress you, caress you, love you. You start to smile and then realize that the DJ is playing your song. It's time to get reacquainted with your friend.
You walk to the restroom and wait patiently for a stall. There's a line but you don't care. Soon, you and your friend will be on the floor dancing. You'll be swept away from the childhood you had, from the faggot jokes that you experienced in high school, from the distant parents who told their friends that their son was "different." Yes, soon all of that will go away, and the new you will appear.
The line shortens and you're next. The stall opens next to you and you see him. He is the guy you had a crush on for years. He is the guy who would never give the overweight guy you used to be the time of day. The nights you stayed awake and imagined him next to you. The hot sex you fantasized about in your mind. Then you were fat and unworthy. But now things are different. You are buff. You are tight. You are hot. And he is looking at you. He is giving you the "once over." He is smiling. He is the pursuer. You glance at him and move into the stall, locking the door behind you.
You reach into your pocket and pull out your little friend. There he is, the friend that you have come to love, the friend with the blue face and countless attributes. You flush the toilet and the next thing you know you are leaving the bathroom in search of him. You find him standing next to the bathroom entrance. You can't help but wonder if he is waiting for you. Then you realize that of course he is. You reach into your pocket for a vile of liquid and dump it in your bottled water. This will help your friend kick in. You wait. He walks over to you, his eyes not leaving your chest, still a smile on his face. He starts the conversation with the usual idle chitchat. You can't help notice his square jaw line. His full lips. His strong physique. You hardly hear a word he says. You are captivated by his raw sexuality.
You decide to dance. He leads you to the dance floor, his arm around your waist. You can tell he is doing the "body check." His hands moving up and down your back, then to your side. He turns and says in a sly mumble, "You work out, huh?" You don't answer him. You just smile, reassured that the work at the gym and your little friend have paid off. You start to dance with him.
You dance for a long time. The music takes you away. The touch of his body sends your heart racing. By the way he moves his body, you know he is going to be incredible in bed. You need to get "Tina." You whisper in his ear that you will be right back and you race off to find someone that can hook you up. After a couple of minutes and a trip to the bathroom, you return. You are ready. You are good to go.
In many parts of the U.S., crystal meth decides what we actually do in bed as well as the risks that we will take. Ecstasy (MDMA) makes our weekends more enjoyable. "Special K" (ketamine hydrochloride) gives us the flight that we need, the ability to lose our identity. The escape. The way it makes us feel. All of us momentarily forgetting about what it really does to us and how it puts us at risk for HIV infection.
We do ecstasy to get us out on the dance floor and enjoy the music. It makes our heart race and/or blood pressure rise. But it also destroys cells that produce serotonin in the brain. These cells play a direct roll in regulating aggression, mood, sexual activity, sleep, and sensitivity to pain. Scientists have now shown that ecstasy not only makes the brain's nerve branches and endings degenerate, but also makes them regrow, but abnormally -- failing to reconnect with some brain areas and connecting elsewhere with the wrong areas. These reconnections may be permanent, resulting in cognitive impairments, changes in emotion, learning, memory, or hormone-like chemical abnormalities.
We shove our way to the front of the line at the club to enjoy the wonders of drug use. Once we are on the dance floor having a good time we usually need to "kick in" the ecstasy. We do that with "liquid G" (GHB). GHB is an alternative to smoking dope on the comedown, and if you have sex, it's good sex, at least for awhile, until you fall asleep.
After we meet the guy that we want... we go home with him. That's where crystal meth joins the party. Crystal enhances whatever you are feeling at that particular time. The touch. If you are at home with the hot guy and want to have sex, then crystal will give you the best sex, even with a guy who doesn't know what to do sexually. It turns the sexually challenged into an Olympic champion, who can last for hours with multiple techniques and gymnastics that would even make Mitch Gaylord blush.
After hours of sex we lose our erections. The sexual Olympics turn into a sick sideshow. We take more to keep up, and maybe even a hit of Viagra. (Is someone keeping track of the drugs that are in our system?) Your judgment is impaired, your heart is racing, you are sweating, it's hard to keep your breath, you are panting, you are horny, and you have no idea if the guy behind you is using a condom, and you don't care. Then you take another hit of crystal meth.
And that's the trap of crystal meth, you lose your ability to make rational decisions. Users run the risk of getting caught off-guard by the addictiveness of drug. The psychological dependence causes us to need meth daily to avoid the painful side effects of withdrawal and coming back to reality. The withdrawals can lead to bouts of deep depression, extreme tiredness, possible convulsions, coma or even death.
The drugs today are new. The immediate effects are incredible. The long-term effects are devastating. I have been a prevention specialist for nearly six years now, but I'm still at a loss: What can we say to someone that can compete with the effects of a new era of drugs? We see our friends become distant as they become more and more dependent. What can we say to the person who misuses drugs? Do we go back 15 years and say "Just say no" or "Use a condom"? I think not.
Drugs are just the vehicle. We need to search within ourselves and ask why we choose to ride in a speeding car with no seatbelt, on a dead-end road.
Michael Barnett is the Associate Director of Prevention at Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN). He is the creator of OZ (Outreach Zone), a program committed to behavior change and reducing the rates of HIV infection within Chicago's gay and bisexual community.
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