Using meth to fuel sex marathons is a rite of passage for some members of the gay community …

Blake* hasn’t slept in three days. Every time he feels the weariness creep in, his partner gives him another hit of crystal meth. As soon as he fills his lungs, he’s wide awake and ready to fuck.

Blake is my childhood best friend. He’s smart, handsome, and the most popular boy I’ve ever met. He’s the type of boy you’d never expect to touch hard drugs, but this experience is sort of a rite of passage in the gay community. They lovingly call it “Party and Play.”

Meth is the perfect sex drug for gay men. It provides a rampant surge in energy that makes them feel like a horny teenager all over again. It instantly quiets all sexual inhibitions, like any lingering guilt of internalizing homosexuality throughout their childhood. It boosts stamina and intensifies sensations, supplying intense sexual pleasure for hours.

“I’ve only smoked it,” Blake explained to me. “But you can swallow it, snort it, or inject it. I’ve even seen people shove it up their butt.”

Blake was at a house party the first time he saw speed. He was discreetly pulled into a bedroom, where a few new friends were passing around a pipe. One friend was fidgeting his hand in the back side of his pants, as if to relieve himself of a wedgie. Only later did he realize his friend was getting high intra-anally.

The first time he caved to curiosity, Blake stayed awake for 30 hours. He had started seeing someone new, and his partner suggested a little weekend retreat. And although they stayed in town, they achieved the same departure from their daily lives — a vacation from work, family, friends, sleep, and sanity.

“Staying awake for longer than two days … It’s not healthy for anyone’s brain,” Blake tells me. “People start to go crazy.”

By crazy, Blake mostly means anxiety and paranoia — common side effects of prolonged meth use and sleep deprivation.

“People start to think that’s someone’s after them,” he explains. In some friends, Blake has also seen prime examples of common side effects like lost impulse control and impaired decision-making. “I had a friend who became so convinced someone was out to get him that he packed up all his stuff and just left town. Without warning, he left behind his job and his family. He blames the drugs,” he says.

Blake’s exposure to a thriving meth community isn’t surprising. One major study found that 25 percent of gay men have used meth at least once. Most commonly, the men are between the ages of 17 and 29. Not only does Blake fall within both demographics, but he also lives in a part of the country notorious for its meth scourge — south Florida. The surge of methamphetamine arrests in Fort Lauderdale in recent years has led to the formation of numerous non-profits and task forces committed to mitigating the growing epidemic.

But meth’s euphoric high makes the drug’s proliferation almost impossible to stop. Crystal meth can release 12 times more dopamine into the brain than the body can produce naturally. To put this into perspective, cocaine can only release four times as much dopamine. Meth stimulates the brain in the same way that a real accomplishment does, creating a rewarding feeling that naturally motivates people to strive for that same sense of achievement again and again.  The high also provides a sense of capability, creating the illusion of being more powerful and productive than usual. Anyone who has popped an Adderall (which is essentially prescription methamphetamine) can comprehend the same sense of empowered productivity.

But why would the euphoric highs, no sleep, and sex marathons appeal to gay couples more than straight couples? “Gay guys have the urge to just fuck all the time,” Blake explains. “Straight guys do too, I guess, but they’re more tamed by women.” 

But women keeping straight men in line is a common misconception. Studies show women make up 46 percent of meth users, likely because they enjoy a more massive boost to their sex drives than men do. So researchers have come up with their own theories as to why meth has become so prevalent in the gay male community. 

One idea is that because young gay men are often unable to meet potential partners in mainstream settings, they tend to use bars, clubs, gay dating sites, and chat rooms to meet sexual partners, where drugs and casual sex are the norm. Another idea is that meth makes gay sex simpler in a physical sense, as it increases stamina and enables relaxation, which is especially helpful during anal sex (although not all gay men engage in anal penetration). Unfortunately, it also increases the courage required for unprotected sex, which delivers the same instant gratification of a meth high while slapping on a lethal hazard of transmitting HIV.

For many gay men, what starts as kind of an initiation into the gay scene can spiral into a dark cycle of addiction and sexually transmitted disease. The meth epidemic makes victims of vulnerable young men, who take drugs and have dangerous promiscuous sex because they’re uncertain of their sense of belonging in the gay community.

But Blake doesn’t really focus on the bigger picture. He’s always lived in the moment. He receives party and play requests on Tinder and Grindr nearly every time he opens his phone. And he’s open to trying it again. The way Blake rationalizes it, “You just gotta make sure that you’re doing the drugs, and the drugs aren’t doing you.”

*Not his real name