Sex, Drugs and Romance: Can We Find Love In A Dopeless Place?

Sex, Drugs and Romance: Can We Find Love In A Dopeless Place?

It was a little after midnight, Kartik tells me, when he got that familiar notification on Grindr a few weeks ago. I don’t question the time, because Grindr notifications often find comfort in the depths of the night.

Kartik opened his notifications to a bright, beaming torso – one that looked like it belonged to a good-natured man (Side note: Usually, there’s no chance of knowing whether a man is good-natured or not just by looking at a photo of his well-defined pecs, but in this case, our mystery man also sent photos). He was a visitor, and he was in town ‘just for the night’.

Sounds like every second profile on Grindr, I tell him.

Kartik sighs. There was something different about him, he tells me. He was handsome and chatty, a rare combination for men you’d find lurking on Grindr. In fact, he looked like someone ‘who updated his LinkedIn bio for breakfast’. That speaks volumes about the kind of man our mystery visitor is in person.

‘Do you want to meet?’ The man had pinged.

‘Right now?’ Kartik had shot back.

‘Yes. Come right over. I’ll be waiting.’

‘Now?’

‘Why aren’t you here yet? Just come. I have a surprise for you…’

Kartik tallied his odds. The man was a mere 630 metres away. A brisk five-minute walk, and he would be right over. But the man was a complete stranger, and he also seemed eager.

In fact, he seemed so eager it seemed borderline desperate – what if he was a serial killer who preyed on witty men? Kartik found it strange, but didn’t question his gut instinct. It was his libido, he reassures me, when I cock my eyebrows. Sadly, when it comes to men (gay or straight), it’s always their libido (or in this case, the dangling carrot that was an awaiting surprise).

With apprehension, Kartik rang the bell to the hotel room 15 minutes later. His date opened the door right away. He beamed. That wasn’t what a serial killer looked like (Side note: Serial killers can’t be profiled, so kids, please don’t try this at home or at a hotel room).

Kartik walked into the modest hotel suite, and his eyes fell almost immediately on the syringe. ‘What’s that?’ he asked.

‘Aren’t you into high fun?’ the not-so-mysterious man asked.

And just like that, Kartik’s LinkedIn dreams came crashing down. When every fourth profile on Grindr is a not-so-silent plea that squeals for sex on drugs, it’s not easy to ignore the relationship that queer men have with chem sex.

It’s most certainly a toxic one – one that covers a spectrum of profile handles, from HF (High Fun) to HF WP NW (High Fun, with place. Looking for now!) Kartik says that the next 30 minutes were some of the most harrowing he has ever seen. After spending a quarter of an hour convincing his date that he wasn’t interested in trying out drugs with a stranger, Kartik spent the next few minutes trying to find a way out of an experience that he didn’t want to be a part of. He wasn’t just trying to appease a horny stranger in his home turf; he was trying to appease a horny stranger who was also very high.

It went rather well, Kartik sighs in relief, as he recalls the latter half of the night. No scenes were created, no boundaries were harmed. The man was understanding — disappointed, yes — but understanding. But, how is this even a question in the age of consent, you ask?

Kartik believes that gay men can be vindictive when denied sex, even more so when they are tripping on MDMA. He’s heard multiple horror stories of men being abused, blackmailed and coerced (and sometimes, even drugged) into having chem sex, and he won’t deny it, but each worst-case scenario flashed in front of his eyes. Thankfully, our friend here was only ‘moderately bummed out' that Kartik wouldn’t let go of his inhibitions.

‘Are you sure you don’t want to do it?’ the man pleaded at the door, when they eventually parted ways. Kartik shook his head and left, and never heard from the LinkedIn template ever again.

As countless think-pieces on the Internet will tell you, gay men have been using narcotics (and sometimes, even the needle) to heighten their sexual experiences for centuries. It’s only more recently that they’ve broken through the shackles of secrecy and are talking about their fetishes out in the open, and inside hotel rooms and closed bedrooms.

Akaash Dutt* has a different story to tell. On first sight, Akaash is an ordinary man. A marketing executive for a bustling education startup, he spends his time shuttling between work and post-work drinks. He’s hooked on to catchy Bollywood numbers, football and the sweet taste of cheap rum.

And then four months ago, he got hooked on to chem sex. His story matches Kartik’s – a mysterious stranger who reached out to him in the dead of the night, a promise of bliss at arm’s reach. A desperate plea to meet. An introduction to hard drugs.

Unlike Kartik, he decided to take the leap (read: slam) of faith. He remembers it vividly. There was some initial hesitance when he saw the syringe (it’s better than licking the strain, the man had reasoned), but seconds later, the deed had been done.

Nothing happened for a while, Akaash tells me, and he feared it was a cheap strain. Was this how his first drug-fueled experience was going to be?

And then suddenly, he felt…free. “It’s like every single pore on my body was alive,’ he tells me, ‘and every single pore of my body wanted to feel intimate.’

The definition of intimacy is questionable here, because Akaash went on to do a lot of things he wouldn’t usually prefer talking about. But he doesn’t hold back on the gory details. It was surreal, he says, ‘I felt like I wanted to go on, and on, and I didn’t want to stop.'

And he didn’t. They went at it all over the house, and thrice in the car (including that one blissful time over the sea link). Akaash says they tried positions he hadn’t heard off, and tried sex toys he didn’t know existed. Queer men usually avoid talking about substance abuse, like they avoid complex carbohydrates.

But not Akaash. At the end of his 17-minute monologue, I feel goosebumps on my arm. He says he fell in love that night.

And he’s fallen in love a total of seven times in the last four months. Most users will tell you that this is commonplace – replacing endorphins and oxytocins with mephedrones and Methylenedioxymethamphetamines (popularly known as MDMA or Ecstacy) to stimulate some chemically induced love. ‘It’s so much easier,’ Akaash quips, as we pay the bill.

So where does that leave the quintessential gay man who doesn’t want to take the shortcut to finding his soul mate? Can we really find love in a dopeless place?

Before you jump down the rabbit hole of PnP (Party and Play), here’s what you need to know:

1. Get your facts right

Most of the stigma attached to chem sex comes from the fear of catching an STD from a frequent user. But newsflash: Drugs don’t lead to STIs or HIV transmissions. Practicing unsafe sex and sharing contaminated needles do.

2. Remember that safety comes first

That’s code for ‘condoms always’. No matter how convincing your partner gets about ‘trust and inhibitions’. No matter how well you know them. No matter how free you feel. No matter how high you are. No matter how low your inhibitions get. No matter how many times people tell you that ‘a condom will just ruin the whole experience, why don’t you believe me?’

3. Know that consent is everything

…And you can leave whenever you feel uncomfortable. No questions asked, no explanations given. Just agreeing to meet someone through an app or stepping into a chem sex party/hang out does not mean you agree to whatever anyone else wants to do. It’s 2019, and consent needs to be handed out over the counter at the local pharmacy — unlike the drugs, in this case.

–Illustration by Amrai Dua

Aniruddha Mahale