March 2013

When did you last have sober sex?

Drugs and alcohol are part of the lives of many people, often no serious harm is caused, but this is not always the case. It has been reported that nearly a third of Swindon residents have some form of drug or alcohol concern. It is estimated that around 2,400 people in Swindon are addicted to drugs and as many as 40,000 are suffering with alcohol issues. 

Drugs and alcohol can have dramatic effects on your sexual behaviour. They can make you more likely to have casual sex and less likely to use condoms, leaving you at risk of exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Some drugs can also have a negative impact on your relationships or your sexual performance. And often combining sex with drugs & alcohol more often than not results in a bad experience, for one if not both partners.

There can be many reasons why someone will use drugs and most would say they are usually used by those wanting to mask deeper problems in their life, but there are also those who would say it’s not used to lift them from their troubles, but to enhance an experience, a moment, or an activity; where it is recreational use at parties, clubs or sex sessions. But of course these too could possibly lead to a dependency that exceeds recreational use. 

Many people take drugs because they want to feel more confident or more relaxed. To enable them to do things they wouldn't usually try. However, if you are high or drunk, you are less in control of your body and might find yourself in situations that you can’t control, and taking risks you usually wouldn’t if you were sober. 

For these reasons you are more likely to have unprotected sex as your inhibitions will be lowered, or have unintentional sex and the idea of using a condom could simply be forgotten or not considered. That puts both people at a greater risk of catching or passing on a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and/or, if having sex with a woman, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. Also, even if you do remember to use a condom, there is greater risk of putting it on wrong, contaminating the condom or breaking or tearing it. You could find yourself regretting having had sex with that person the following day or not even remembering that you had sex, or worse having sex that you did not consent to. In around 35-45% of reported sexual assaults alcohol is recorded to have been involved. 

Some people use drugs intentionally for sex, which in some cultures is known as ‘chem sex’, with the idea that the drugs they are using will enhance sexual arousal and prolong sex. For many, substance use has become an integral part of their strategic approach to sex, locking them into continued use. This has become very evident in the gay community, with drugs such a Crystal Meth becoming very popular in recent years due to the effect of an increase in sexual desire and feeling horny, with a dependency and addiction so high that some feel frightened or reluctant to even try sex without Crystal Meth again. 

The GMFA (Gay Men’s Health Charity) have produced an excellent booklet regarding gay men and drugs

“This booklet can help you to take stock of your drug use. It gives tips on cutting down or stopping. It has advice on how to use drugs more safely and how to help ensure you have safer sex even when you’re wasted. It tells you which combinations of drugs and/or alcohol can be dangerous and which drugs to avoid if you’re on certain HIV treatments.” And can be downloaded via the following link 

And London based service Antidote who are the UK's only LGB&T run and targeted drug and alcohol support service, provides another great resource online about playing more safe when it comes to sex & drugs.

Drugs like cocaine, heroin and sedatives numb the nerve cells in our sex organs, meaning that it can be difficult to reach orgasm.  This is why some use it to prolong sex, but it can also lead to men finding it difficult to maintain or keep an erection, leading to perhaps clumsier and unsatisfying sex, and in women it prevents them from producing natural lubrication for safe, pain free sex.  

Alcohol and drugs can also decrease fertility, in men it can lower their sperm count, women can find it more difficult to get pregnant and some women who drink heavily can find their periods stop all together.

And for those in relationships, if one or both of you regularly drinks too much or gets high, the stress that this will put on your relationship will start to tell in the bedroom as well as elsewhere. Alcohol and drug use might cause you to argue more or cause violence in your relationship with alcohol and drugs often a factor in domestic violence cases. 

For some drug users, who may have exhausted financial ways of paying for their habit, some may turn to selling their body for sex as a way get what they need, or even getting pimped out by their dealer to feed their habit. Not all sex workers are unsafe in the sex that they sell, but it is widely known that a higher rate can be paid to have unsafe sex or bareback sex, putting but the client and worker at extremely high risk. 

One of the biggest concerns with some drugs is the risk of catching or passing on HIV, this is not just through the risk of having unsafe sex when high on drugs, but the practise of sharing needles. IV drug use with shared needles is one of the routes of transmission for HIV and Hepatitis B & C. Also if you are already HIV positive, using drugs and alcohol can have a greater effect on your body, to read more about this issue please click on this link to a separate page on our website. 

Going back to Swindon specifically: there are presently 642 people registered in effective treatment for drug addiction. In terms of the level of substance abusers comparative to other areas of the country, Swindon is not above or below the norm.  However, information in relation to the use of Legal Highs would appear to indicate that Swindon has a disproportionate level of usage compared to the rest of the country. 

It currently has the highest reported incidences of the sale and use of Legal Highs in the Southwest – statistics show a dramatic increase since August 2011 and The Great Western Hospital notes that the drug user profile is often ‘young males’ and many of the users were reporting they were ‘clean’ of Class A drugs because they had switched to Legal Highs. High use of Methoxetamine was reported, it is effectively a replicated Ketamine substance, the symptoms that were being experienced matched those of Ketamine, although they were much more intense and longer lasting – severe hallucinations, extreme sleep deprivation, feelings of intense paranoia. Legal highs are substances that mimic class A/B substances, but it should be made clear that ‘legal’ doesn’t mean safe and ‘Legal’ doesn’t mean Legal as more recent evidence indicates the substances have been mixed with illicit ones. Also, what may be being purchased may not even contain what you think, it may not be clean or pure - your interests may be to get high but the dealer’s is to get rich!  With these issues in mind, Men’s Sexual Health have embarked upon this campaign to raise the awareness of alcohol issues, illegal drugs and legal drugs with support from SWADS (Swindon & Wiltshire Drug and Alcohol Service), SCSP (Swindon Community Safety Partnership) and the Hep C positive group. We hope people will see our poster, read our article, engage with us at public events and take those first steps in discussing their addictions.

The questions below will help you to think about whether it would be useful to talk to someone about your drug or alcohol use. If you answer 'yes' to more than three or four questions then it may be worth you getting more information and contacting us for support on what to do next:

* Do you drink or use drugs to get away from problems in your life, or to block out feelings or memories?

* Does taking drugs/alcohol actually change your mood?

* Are you using drugs/alcohol more often than you used to?

* Do you need to take more drugs/alcohol to get the same effects as you used to?

* Has using drugs/alcohol caused problems in your family or at school or work?

* Do other people tell you that you have got a drug/alcohol problem or that you are out of control?

* When you are using drugs/alcohol do you ever end up using more than you initially planned to?

* Do you feel that you can't stop taking drugs/alcohol once you have started?

* Do you feel emotions such as shame, guilt or hopelessness after you have used drugs/alcohol?

* Have you ever used drugs/alcohol to make these feelings go away?

* Have you tried to stop using drugs/alcohol for any length of time?

* Have you ever considered hurting yourself because of your drug/alcohol use?

* Do you continue to use drugs/alcohol even when the consequences of previous use are unresolved; e.g. getting more drugs even when you still owe money for the last lot?

If this is you – please get in touch with our service, SWADS, SCSP or HEP C Group