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When Nicola* and Matt* hooked up at a New Year's Eve party, it was the start of three years of drug-fuelled sex sessions. They would book a hotel room or go to Matt's parents' house while they were away. He'd bring a couple of grams of MDMA or coke and they'd stay up until the next morning having sex. "On MDMA, I'd want to cuddle and slowly fuck him, sitting on top in something silky," says the 25-year-old student from Brighton, a seaside town in the UK. "But on coke, I'd do anything to please Matt. It was like stepping out of myself. I forgot who I was."
Nicola explains that the more frequently she had sex while high, the more extreme it became. Coke helped her orgasm easily, but it left her confused about what she wanted—and whether she was actually consenting. "One time Matt drunkenly texted that he wanted me to fuck him with a strap-on," she explains. "I found myself pissing on his face and fucking him up the arse, in between chopping up lines of coke. Superficially, I'm sure these images are transgressive, but it wasn't me."
It was only when each sex session was over, and Nicola had sobered up, that she realized that she wasn't behaving in a way she would choose to without the drugs. "The disinhibited nature of the sex felt great at the time," she says. "But I had to deal with a lot of shame afterwards. I've got photos of myself from this period, and I've never seen a sadder girl. My eyes are begging for someone to rescue me."
People have always mixed drink, drugs and sex—from bankers and their trophy wives snorting coke in Cannes to hippies pressing tabs of acid into their mates' hessian-swaddled hands—but over the past few years fucked-up sex has gone mainstream. Pop music is full of references, from Angel Haze rapping "Can we just get high? Then find each other through each others' thighs?" to Frank Ocean crooning about "cocaine for breakfast, bed full of women".
Look on Instagram and you'll find more than 100,000 pictures tagged #sexystoners as well as accounts made in tribute to coke sex and sex on MDMA. (That last one includes sexualized photos of nosebleeds.) Plus, since the legalization of weed in California, there's been a steady flow of marijuana-based sex products, including a stimulating oil and, of course, the dildo bong.
While stories about chemsex—gay male sex parties fuelled by GHB, mephedrone and crystal meth—grab headlines, the reality is that women are also increasingly incorporating drugs into their sex lives. On Reddit, when I asked women what they thought of high sex, I got replies like "Ummmm because DRUGS and SEX! Helloooooo," and "My boyfriend loves it when I take Vyvanse [a prescription drug used to treat ADHD] because I'm much more dominant and aggressive." I was also pointed towards a forum where people give their high orgasms a mark out of 10.
Chauntelle Tibbals, PhD, is a sociologist and author of Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex Society and Adult Entertainment. She explains that as drug consumption becomes seen as a social norm, the conversations around drugs as sex -enhancers become mainstream, too. "Cannabis, for example, is in the midst of a significant mainstream shift," she says. "And the plant's erotic-enhancing capabilities are part of that conversation. In other respects, communities that have long touted the sex-enhancing capabilities of certain drugs are becoming more mainstream. So, for example, as EDM culture mainstreams, a lot of the community norms mainstream as well—this may include certain types of drug use and sex."
Sometimes we'd fuck for six hours a time. It made me feel more confident to be all crazy.
The way we pursue sex has also changed a lot recently. If you wanted to have sex on coke in the past, you'd have to hope someone in your immediate social circle was into narcotics, or hit a club. Now, we can go on Tinder on a Tuesday morning and hook-up by noon. "For people who are looking for casual drug-enhanced sex, the ease of access has certainly increased due to technology," Tibbals says. "As such, the occurrence has probably also gone up. And generally, with occurrence increasing, you get spillover—others adopting a behavior they didn't necessarily engage in before or simply didn't know was possible."
A 25-year-old suburban primary school teacher I spoke to went through a phase of sending her friends pictures of her bedside table every Saturday date night, with prosecco, condoms, and a baggy of coke laid out in a neat little line. Now in a strait-laced long-term relationship ("we stay in on Saturday nights with a Chinese takeaway"), you'd never guess it grew from an eight-month period of coke-fuelled sex.
"Sometimes we'd fuck for six hours a time," she admits. "It made me feel more confident to be all crazy. There was one time when I did a striptease to The Weeknd—which is something I would obviously be embarrassed to do sober—but in the moment I felt like a porn star. It definitely took the edge of having sex with someone new."
But is there scientific proof that drugs do enhance sex for women? Anna Ermakova, the science officer at UK drugs trust The Beckley Foundation, says there's been limited research into the field, but the studies that do exist indicate that there are some benefits of taking drugs. She explains that MDMA mimics the chilled-out and loved-up "post-orgasmic state" that increases sociability, empathy and sensuality. Plus, research in the 70s and 80s reported that sex on cannabis was more intimate. "One of the surveys shows females are more likely to report enhanced sexual desire with cannabis use and report increased feeling of sexual pleasure and satisfaction," she explains. "In fact, 40 percent of women reported that it increased the quality of their orgasm."
I had feelings for Matt. But I couldn't figure out if it was real or just drugs.
Sarah*, a 24-year-old student who lives in York, UK, told me that she always smokes a joint before having sex with her boyfriend of four years. "I have generalized anxiety disorder," she explains. "So it's actually really difficult for me to orgasm sober because I feel anxious pretty much all the time. Weed relaxes me."
Having sex in the cold light of day terrifies a lot of people. In fact, dating culture in 2015 is so not-sober that a 21-year-old teetotaller from San Francisco felt the need to start a Tinder for daters who don't drink earlier this year. A small survey from FemFresh reported that one in seven women in a relationship can't face having sex sober and a poll from UKMedix.com found that one in ten British couples had not had sober sex in over six months. While these studies focused on alcohol, add them to the fact that drugs are becoming less taboo, and the ways we can have not-sober sex suddenly multiply.
Sarah explains self-medicating her anxiety with weed isn't problem-free. "Sometimes weed makes my anxiety worse," she admits. "I haven't quite figured out what the balance is yet but hopefully I will. But on the other hand if I don't smoke I have very low chances of orgasming which ultimately makes me happy."
Watch the trailer for CHEMSEX, released in UK cinemas on December 4
Drug-fuelled sex has a darker side. A 2015 study of 20 university students who regularly used MDMA found that they were much more likely to have higher rates of casual sex and condomless sex. There are also serious psychological risks involved for people who regularly have sex on drugs.
Dr. Rachel Needle, a sex psychologist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida, says she's treated clients who have had both good and bad experiences from sex on drugs. "If we are always in an altered state of mind when having sex," she says, "we lose the opportunity to be truly connected and present to experience what could be the most incredible sex of our lives."
Needle adds that people with addictive tendencies might start to crave drugs when they have sex and sex when they take drugs: "When you have positive experiences with drugs and sex together, you can begin to crave and rely on the two happening at the same time."
A single 21-year-old woman I spoke to on Reddit explained to me that since she started combining sex, amphetamines, and crystal meth, she's now only ever able to hook up while on drugs. "If I'm not high, I don't feel pleasure," she explained. "Sex, as an act, has been scary for me since I started having it and using stimulants helps me free myself. The worst thing is that because I consider drugs and sex to be the most private and intimate things I can do, I always end up emotionally attached to the moment and the person I'm having sex with."
Read More: Moms Who Do Molly
This is something Nicola—the 25-year-old who spent three years having drug sex—knows only too well. As her relationship with Matt continued, she realized what was supposed to be a casual hook up had become more complicated for her. "I had feelings for Matt," she says. "But I couldn't figure out if it was real or just drugs. I was chasing a love that never existed, so settled for a brief high in its place. I'm moving on, but I think it will take some time and a lot of work."
It's been months since Nicola stopped seeing Matt and since she did drugs, but she still craves high sex. "I feel better for stopping," she says. "But if I see someone chopping up lines on TV, I'm reminded—with little flashing images in my mind—of the things I've done, and I feel a pull towards doing them again. I have to pause and really think about what I want."
* Name has been changed.
Chemsex support is available in most sexual health clinics. 56 Dean Street offers one-to-one chemsex support; visit chemsexsupport.com. Antidote (London Friend) offers drug and alcohol support for the LGBT community. Call 0207 833 1674.
CHEMSEX is released in the UK on Friday the 4th of December. To see a full list of cinemas showing the film, click here. CHEMSEX will be released on DVD and On-Demand in the UK on the 11th of January.
To read the rest of the articles from our Chemsex Week – a series exploring the people, issues and stories in and around the world of chemsex—click here.