Meth and Sex: A Dangerous Combination

Methamphetamine’s influence on sex is infamous. Because meth quickly becomes fused with sexual desire and behavior in the brain, re-differentiating the two later on becomes a major and sometimes painful task. It is akin to separating two solids once they have chemically bonded. Most people require a considerable period of time to recover sexual desire and function without the drug, but it is important to emphasize that sexual healing does occur.
Not everyone employs meth for the purpose of enhancing sexual activity. The drug has a long history of use worldwide for a variety of purposes, including boosting energy to get through mundane tasks such as housework or manual labor, elevating mood when low energy and depressive symptoms pervade, and heightening concentration and even aggressiveness in stressful situations such as combat.

Gay men, however, have found that regularly mixing methamphetamine and sex is seductive, powerfully erotic, and frequently very destructive. Meth use generates a rush of dopamine, which causes overwhelming pleasurable feelings that powerfully seduce its users and instills a desire to quickly repeat the experience. Meth hijacks the brain’s reward system, which is designed to make activities essential to our survival highly pleasurable. It intensifies sexual experiences to the point where the user feels that “meth-sex” is the ultimate sexual experience, and expands personal sexual boundaries, resulting in riskier sexual interaction and a heightened interest in exploring more remote corners of sexual fantasies.
Meth increases the duration of sexual activities, resulting in many users reporting marathons of thirty-six to forty-eight hours. Much of this time is spent in a drug state, watching pornography, masturbating, and voyeurism in a sexually-charged atmosphere. Some men describe the persistent erotic energy in their brains as so overwhelming that they cannot quell their sexual desire until long after the body has reached its physical limits. One man who was clean from meth noted the wonder of having an orgasm and realizing that he finally experienced relief from sexual preoccupation. Without meth, his erotic drive was able to subside in a normal and healthy way.

With consistent use, the power of the drug overtakes most users, and any pleasurable effects dissolve as meth wreaks havoc on physical, mental, and emotional health. All other needs are set aside. Even hunger is suspended by the action of the methamphetamine. Appointments are missed, bills go unpaid, dogs are not walked, partners are ignored, and HIV medications are forgotten. Many users’ lives quickly deteriorate as their exclusive focus becomes obtaining and ingesting the drug and escaping into sexual thoughts and activities. Meth soon depletes the brain’s dopamine reserve until the user’s mood crashes to deep, sometimes suicidal depths and he is compelled to return to the drug again and again.
There are numerous ways to hit bottom with meth. For many gay men, dozens, hundreds, even thousands of casual sexual encounters ultimately result in a hollow, painful emptiness that can no longer be filled with sex, meth, or other drugs. While not everyone suffers the extreme consequences of using this drug, many gay men can describe in detail their own story or stories of their friends whose lives have been shattered by methamphetamine use. Professionals agree that this drug hits harder and faster than most others. After enough anguish, many begin a self-examination and, once in recovery, begin to accept the possibility that portions of themselves that were buried, alienated, or even despised can be acknowledged, accepted, changed, and integrated into a new appreciation of who they are.

Among the most devastating of the losses created by meth is the feeling that one’s sexuality has somehow been permanently damaged. Men continue to describe themselves as “sexual cripples” during abstinence. Many are unable to function sexually without the drug. They find that nothing fires sexual desire, and many believe that nothing ever will bring it truly alive again. Even well into recovery, the ability to experience pleasure is at times elusive for those without support.

This fusion of meth and sex becomes particularly obvious when someone in recovery attempts to extricate crystal meth from their life. Sexual thoughts, sexual feelings, and seemingly casual events such as smells, sounds, and visual cues become a minefield that requires careful and conscious maneuvering. Sex, therefore, becomes threatening and dangerous because it sets off drug cues. An attractive man on the street, notification of an instant message, the sensation of walking into a bar, even getting blood drawn at the doctor’s office can set off drug cravings that lead directly to sexual desires and fantasies. Many newly clean meth users even describe strong triggers evoked by walking into a Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting where one might see former tricks or simply be exposed to a sexually charged room full of gay men. This is disquieting for many in early recovery because they feel they must totally suppress sexual thoughts in order to avoid a relapse.

Such triggers heighten one’s pulse, cause sweats, and induce a very real and sometimes overwhelming desire to use the drug. Even in sleep one finds little escape as the subconscious expresses its need for the euphoric rush of dopamine and heightened sexual sensations. One man from Tampa who was trying to stay clean from meth wrote about dreaming of sexual situations:
“I constantly have nightmares. In most of them I wake up right when I put the pipe to my lips or when I get the needle in my arm. Right before I push in the syringe I’ll wake up in a cold sweat and be depressed that it was only a dream. I miss it very much.”
For most in recovery, drug dreams are followed by profound relief upon awakening when one realizes he or she hasn’t, in fact, relapsed. For the meth user quoted above, meth dreams are different. He wakes up depressed to realize that the meth rush and the meth-sex that seemed so close were only a dream.
Once the cravings begin to subside, men are often left with the belief that sex without meth could never be as intense as it was or exciting as it was with it. Many feel doomed to a life of unexciting “vanilla” sex, constantly fighting euphoric memories of sex on meth. Avoiding methamphetamine is, by itself, a hugely challenging process, and damage to one’s sex life makes the recovery even more difficult and painful.

Recovery from methamphetamine is a long process of addressing a barrage of triggers to use the drug. Cravings can be successfully managed by remembering that the cue is like a wave washing over one’s entire body. It has a forward motion and will, ultimately, crest and pass. At its height the urge to use seems unbearable, but by practicing cognitive techniques and applying relapse prevention tools one can survive the craving.

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