As a drug and alcohol counselor at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, I often counsel people on the dangers of crystal methamphetamine. It’s one of the most addictive substances available, and its use is associated with a host of damaging physical, emotional and social consequences (loss of work, loss of family and friends, deterioration of health, etc.) We know, of course, that it can also devastate the lives of friends and family who are helpless to stop the abuse. And now we’re learning more about the dangers to those who have intimate encounters with meth users.
R.K. Bolan and others at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Health and Mental Health Services Research Department recently completed a study that found meth users are two to four times more likely to contract HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis than non-users. And among those who tested positive for STDs, 60 to 68 percent said they had used meth in the last 30 days. What’s the correlation? Meth is known to heighten sexual experience while simultaneously lowering inhibitions, frequently resulting in riskier sexual behavior with more sexual partners.
Even if your partner has had a recent test, he may not know he has HIV because for some time after infection, standard tests can’t yet detect the HIV antibodies. It’s during this period that people are most infectious, because they have a spike in viral loads. So if your sexual partner is partying and playing (PNP), chances are he’ll give you more than a great night of sex.
Most HIV prevention strategies have been directed at meth users themselves; little work has focused on their sexual partners. I know that negotiating safer sex practices can be difficult, especially in the heat of things, but it’s no longer enough just to inquire about your partner’s HIV status—you should also attempt to determine whether he uses meth.
Some tips for negotiating safer sex practices and prevention:
Ask your partner his HIV status and continue the conversation to include substances. Have the conversation early, before you’re in the bedroom. Know your limits. If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. If you’re hooking up online, include your deal-breakers in your profile—“no pnp.” Always carry condoms with you.
If you feel you’ve been exposed to HIV, call the Center’s Sexual Health Program immediately at (323) 860- 5855. We offer treatments that may prevent you from becoming HIV-positive even if you’ve been exposed to the virus. We also offer HIV/STD testing and counseling services.
Of course, if your partner denies using meth, that doesn’t mean your condom can stay in your pocket. Safer sex must always include condom use. It’s just that sometimes condoms fail, and if that happens with an especially high-risk partner, you’re more likely to be exposed to multiple infections, including HIV.
If you think you might be having a problem with meth, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Crystal Meth Recovery Services can help and offers the following services to help you reduce or abstain from meth use.
• Crystal Meth Groups: Free support and psycho-educational groups are available.
• Sexual Intimacy Groups: Explore intimacy with other gay men in an open and nonjudgmental atmosphere.
• Individual Counseling
For more information about the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s services, contact Crystal Meth Recovery Services at (323) 993-7448 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.