Meth and Sex

Tweakers, straight and gay, are obsessed with sex. The result is that pregnancy and HIV-infection rates among meth-heads are increasing at alarming rates

There certainly hasn't been an effort like that made in other major metropolitan cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, or San Francisco, where city leaders and nonprofit agencies are pre-emptively targeting gay men before they use meth for the first time. The Stop AIDS Project credits a series of public health awareness campaigns coordinated in part by the agency for a nearly 50 percent drop in meth use among gay and bisexual men in San Francisco.

That's not the case in Phoenix, where health officials admit they've done little, if anything, to address what a huge problem meth and sex present.

"It just hasn't been on our radar screen," says Bruce Porter, the HIV/AIDS coordinator for the Arizona Department of Health Services. "Should it have been? Absolutely."

"I was always high, and I was always having sex," Theresa says. "The two just went hand-in-hand."
Peter Scanlon
"I was always high, and I was always having sex," Theresa says. "The two just went hand-in-hand."
Ex-tweaker Robert
Peter Scanlon
Ex-tweaker Robert

That's an understatement, according to Steven Varnadore, an investigator in Maricopa County's Department of Public Health, who administers HIV tests at local gay bathhouses.

"We're dropping grains of sand to fill up a hole," says Varnadore, a former "recreational" meth user. "And it's enormous."

For the sex-addicted tweakers, if they manage to be sober long enough to get into recovery and therapy -- like Theresa, Randy and Robert -- there is a lifetime of sexual reprogramming, somehow learning to disassociate sex from the act of using meth.

"I know I'm not gay," says Randy, who once so obsessively sought "to get a nut" while high on meth that he had unprotected sex with a transsexual while his girlfriend waited for him at home. "I've never seen some guy's hairy ass and said, 'Oh, I gotta have that.' I'm not dealing with my sexual identity.

"My biggest problem," says Randy, "is that I don't know how to have a healthy sex life."

Crystal meth has an almost instant attraction to dopamine receptors -- commonly referred to as the human brain's "pleasure system" -- more so than other narcotics, according to Brough Stewart, the chemical dependency program director for Banner Behavioral Health in Scottsdale.

"It's a euphoric drug," says Stewart. "It allows us to work more, to eat less, but most often to have more sex."

"If you talk to the users," says Richard Rawson, the UCLA researcher, "meth becomes sex. It actually stimulates the same part of the brain [the dopamine receptors] that controls sexual arousal. The chemistry of sexual arousal and the chemistry of meth become the same. That's why it's so uniquely different from these other drugs we associate with sex."

Which explains why Don Sherrard, who supervises the Phoenix Police Department unit that focuses on searching out and shutting down meth labs, finds "stacks and stacks" of porn at almost every meth house he busts.

"When these guys aren't cooking up the meth or tweaking, they're masturbating or having sex with multiple partners," Sherrard says. "There's pornography everywhere. Sex toys everywhere. These people have contraptions hooked up all over the bedroom."

Robert, one of the ex-tweakers now in recovery, is familiar with what happens in a meth lab.

He says he was once referred to simply as "The Doorman," guarding local meth labs run by biker gangs, protecting both the house and the cooks inside from cops and psychotic tweakers alike. But for willing teenage "sex toys," there was plenty of meth, if not access inside the meth house, for the price of orally satisfying The Doorman.

Robert wasn't initially into meth for the sex. He was only in the seventh grade when he was first exposed to it, weighing cocaine for a friend who happened to have a pocket full of "white crosses."

But over the years, working for biker gangs like "The Dozen" and "The Spartans," he was exposed to more women -- more women looking for drugs.

"You wanted meth? You had to go through me," Robert says. "So I had all these little 18- and 19-year-old sex toys at my feet."

Robert and a fellow tweaker buddy decided it wasn't enough to have their way with young girls who were totally uninhibited on meth; they wanted to film it. They bought a stolen professional-grade video camera, recruited the girls, and then spent hours at a time choreographing the scenes, like big-shot porn directors in the San Fernando Valley.

"I remember we stressed about the cum shot, the 'money shot,' for so long," Robert says -- typical, obsessive tweaker behavior. Eventually, they finished the film, and ended up selling it to a small-time subsidiary of a larger porn distributor for about $7,500.

"They started out with a $10,000 offer," Robert says. "But then they came out to see us, saw that our faces were sunken in and how skinny we were, and they lowballed us down to, like, $6,000. We had to struggle just to get the price we did."

Randy, now a beer-bellied process server also in recovery, never made his own porn. But he did do things he wouldn't have done had he not been on meth.

There are some things about that hot summer night that Randy remembers vividly: He left his job as a car salesman to meet up with some fellow tweakers at a house party, he says, as Robert and Theresa nod, almost fondly remembering what those days were like. At the tweaker party, Randy would sell some meth, and smoke a little, too.

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