If you haven’t had sober sex in the last six months, it hardly makes you a raging drug addict. But intimate sexual connections form a very important part of our general well-being, and if we’re relying too heavily on chems to fulfil those needs, then there’s some kind of problem going on.
So what’s the problem?
A good friend of mine complained recently about his sex life. He’s in his forties, very sexy, very happy. He’s dated from time to time, had a few awesome relationships that ran their course without too much drama. He’s often enjoyed those late brunches with the guy he took home the night before, still aglow with the intimate infatuation of the evening’s frolics, both wondering if this was any more than a one night stand as they befriended each other on Facebook over their eggs.
Sounds great I thought. What’s to complain about?
“No-one’s ever prepared to stay over any more,” he said. He wondered if it was his age, but I know that’s not it. “Forget committing to a date,” he went on, “they can’t even commit to staying longer than it takes to shag, then they’re off, moving on to the next thing. Or unable to sleep because they’re on chems, and just in transit as part of a weekend of chemsexing. Even the Facebook befriending is too much of a commitment. Grindr’s ruined all the fun.”
Now, my friend is no wide-eyed innocent lost in a city of chem-fuelled sex addicts, I promise you; nor is Grindr solely to blame for his unhappy sex life. But it did get me wondering.
What role does sex play in the lives of modern gay men in a big city? Is it just a transitory pastime, a hedonistic recreation?
And is the chemsex problem that’s gripping the bigger gay communities around the world nothing more than ‘it’s fun, why not?’ Or might it be that in these modern times we’re losing the skill to form intimate, lasting connections?
Do we know how awesome sex can be when it’s something our long-term partner (who’s a bit out of shape) does for us one morning, purely because he wants us to have a brilliant day? Or because yesterday was a crap day at work, and he wants today to be better?
Or perhaps it’s the other way around – when did we last do that for someone we care about?
Do we know that the sexiest things about us are not the body parts we groomed or worked out at the gym? They’re the intangible things: that expression on our face that only our lover understands, or causes. It’s sharing that ‘thing’ in common, that thing that connects us uniquely and intimately to one person only, and the only way to celebrate that one thing is to have the hottest sex, right now, on the kitchen table.
Do we know how hot sex can be when it’s the result of three weeks of nervous flirting, and the shy, accidental catch of someone’s eye, that nervous smile?
We deserve more than a profile pic to get our juices stirring, more than a few three-syllable quips in a private message to fulfil our sexual needs. Seriously. We gotta start putting the work in.
Another friend told me that sex ought to be like reading an old-fashioned paperback book – you’ve not committed fully to the book yet by page 1; by the end of the first chapter, you’re getting an idea if this book is for you or not. It’s only after you’re several chapters in that you’re completely committed, and it’s the investment you’ve made getting this far, the attention span required, that makes the read so compelling.
I’m not committing to shagging anyone from a profile pic, or some abbreviated innuendo in an online app. I’d seriously need chems to turn something that shallow into an awesome shag. I wanna get a few chapters in before I shag someone. Anyone I shag is worth that investment, and so am I.
Of course, taking that time involves a little patience in a gay culture of immediate satisfaction, and certainly it takes some courage. Rejection hurts. As gay men, we all know what it’s like to grow up fearing being ’found out’, rejected, bullied, ridiculed. The last thing we need as out and proud adults is to endure the potential rejection of a sober lover, who’s already demonstrated online how cruel and particular he can be about his sexual preferences. Why, in God’s name, would we put ourselves through that again, when we can bypass that agony completely in the chemsex playground London provides for us.
Drugs can be fun, sure. But when they start serving a purpose that we can’t fulfil without the drug, we’ve got a problem.
When sex that lasts only 15 minutes (as opposed to two days) becomes boring, then we’ve got a problem.
When we’re not getting our needs met, or forming any intimate connections without chems, then we’ve got a problem.
When we need to negotiate drug risks in the normal pursuit of a shag, then we have a problem.
And when no-one’s cared enough to sleep over with us because they’re still horny for someone else, then we, as a community, have a problem.
I’d argue that this is not a drug problem, but a sex problem. Times are tough; we’re three decades into a traumatising HIV epidemic, we’re still vulnerable to the rejection and exclusion we experienced in our childhoods; technology is tampering with our attention spans and quick-fixes to our intimacy needs are not satisfying us holistically. It’s high time we stop labelling chemsexers as a small group of gay guys who use too many drugs, and address the role sex, relationships and intimacy play in our lives. It’s time we re-modelled our gay communities as less of a carefree playground, and more of a therapeutic, self-caring community.