Beating the Need for Chems

Hi Beastly… I love your writing and your frank treatment of topics that, for so long, have existed in the shadows. As an HIV+, undetectable gay man who is an occasional user of illicit substances, I’m going through something of a transition.

I was never a heavy user; the last time I used was 0.6g over three weekends; and there had been six months break in between. I know people who can only dream of that kind of restraint!

However, I partied with a fuckbud a few weeks ago and, seven days later, was hospitalised with a pulmonary embolism. I was asked and had to truthfully answer questions about drug use. Fortunately, there is no requirement for medical staff to report someone who presents at the ER and admits to drug use to the authorities in Australia.

The medicos have ruled out the drugs as the cause of the PE. However, I have realised that my drug use needs to end. My question is this: what advice would you give someone who wants sober sex but can’t quite get past the “need” for chems?


This is a tough question for me because I’m in the same boat. Like many men who have sex with men, I’ve become reliant on drugs to have really intense sex. Like you, I can say that not all my sex is high-intensity and I don’t party every time. Like you, I can go months between uses. But I can also admit to a drug dependency for a version of sex I love and value.

I’ve tried CMA multiple times and it’s not for me. I don’t like cults and 12-step programs are culty. They’re also cruel; their all-or-nothing approach requires members to choose total abstinence or lose their entire support network.

But I can acknowledge that the core message of CMA — with all the religious stuff removed — rings with truth: I need to look at my flaws, be selective about who I put energy into and what people I have in my life, and seek out those who have intense sex without substances for support and advice. And that’s what I’ve done.

I can’t say I’ve been wholly successful at eliminating substances from my life; that’s also not the goal right now. But I’m not using every weekend like I was once upon a time. I’m not even using every other month. And that’s a big accomplishment in an imagist, hypersexual gay culture that celebrates sexual and physical enhancement.

One of my great supporters — a gay man, one of my favorite people in the world — has been sober for over 14 years. Today, he enjoys high-octane, intense sex, including fisting. He’s one of several sober (and mostly-sober) fisters I’m happy to know. It’s powerful to speak with these people because we all can connect to this struggle. We all know what it’s like to be tired and coming down after an intense two-day sex spree and filled with regret. For the most part, we all have rejected the shame and religiosity of 12-step programs.

Find people like this. Find playmates like this. If you suspect that you need to take a break and reset, you probably do, and there’s no better time than the present (literally, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so you should already be on a sex freeze).

I’ve been on a sex break. I know I’ll get back into it soon, and I know I’ll probably use again someday, but I also know that I’ve built a shame-free support network that will be there if and when I do. This network includes a substance abuse counselor I talk to every Friday. This counselor is not committed to total abstinence — his focuses are harm reduction, moderation, and healthy management — and that has made a world of difference. There are currently no widely successful 12-step alternatives that don’t involve total abstinence, so the onus falls on us to create these support networks for ourselves.

I find hope — and you should find hope — in the fact that many men enjoy the sex we like without drugs. It will take some time and work to get there, and doing so may demand some extended breaks and periods of self-reflection, but working in that direction is worth the work and beats the alternative — steadily worsening until your life falls apart.

You and I both know how easily that can happen. We see examples every day of men who exist on the other side of that vague line where usage becomes unmanageable, and there is nothing we can do to help them. And I imagine we both see in them ourselves. There is a narrow margin between us and them, and they are our brothers. Our ability to be on this side of that margin is a coin flip, a precarious result of chance. You’re never completely safe from slipping into that place, but you can build a life raft, a way to get back, if you do. And you must.

There are living success stories throughout our community. Go find them.

— Beastly 







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