Party and Play 101
By Shaun Hill, originally published by NZ Drug Foundation.
People have been combining drugs and sex for almost as long as humanity has been around, but there are certain combinations and patterns of drug use that receive more attention and notoriety than others – enter ‘Party and Play’.
Better known as ‘PnP’ (or ‘chemsex’), Party and Play refers to combining certain drugs (methamphetamine, GHB/GBL, and/or mephedrone, though the latter is mostly found in UK/EU) with sex.
While folks of other genders and sexualities might also use these drugs for sex, there’s a long subcultural history linked to gay dance events that makes PnP a queer phenomenon. It’s also been gaining more mainstream attention in the last decade, whether from academics and public health professionals puzzled about how to respond, or from journalists looking to capitalise on some of the growing panic.
While PnP isn’t as common as you might think (international research suggests 5-7% of gay men engage in PnP, though it’s likely lower in Aotearoa), you may still come across it.
So, whether you’re a seasoned pro or this is your first time hearing of it, let’s dive into some ways to keep safe if you choose to PnP.
Some common things that you’re likely to find at PnP parties are condomless anal sex, multiple sexual partners, and extended sex sessions, all of which can increase your risk for HIV and other STIs. If you’re thinking about getting into PnP, it’s also a great idea to get tested on a regular basis – every 3-6 months is the recommended frequency.
While condoms are still the best way to reduce overall both HIV and STI risk, there are other options such as PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) that significantly reduce your ability to acquire HIV (though this doesn't protect you from other STIs). It’s worth discussing with your GP if you feel that being on PrEP would be a more effective way to keep yourself safe during a session.
If you’re thinking about getting into PnP, it’s also a great idea to get tested on a regular basis – every 3-6 months is the recommended frequency.
We'll dive into some harm reduction tips for specific drugs below, but the following are some things that’ll always be relevant for keeping yourself safer and making the most of your session:
- Keep yourself hydrated, and try to eat if you have some downtime – even better if you’re able to have some food stashed away to help you through your possible comedown.
- Check your drugs! There are more regular drug checking clinics popping up throughout the country now that it’s been legalised, so if there’s one near you, consider getting your stash tested so you know exactly what you’re taking.
- Set some limits for yourself, and try to stick to them – whether that be length of a session, amount you’ll spend, or how much you’ll take.
- Consent is crucial – if somebody is looking out of it, stop the session and see if they need a hand - it makes for a better time for everybody.
- If you decide that you’re going to mix drugs, make sure you know what to expect, and be extra careful around the dosing.
- Try to get some breaks in, especially if a session is going on for a long time – your body will need longer to recover and replenish your neurotransmitters (especially dopamine!) the longer you’re playing for.
Methamphetamine (aka P, Tina, ice, crystal) is a stimulant drug that can make you feel hyperactive, paranoid, euphoric, and aggressive. In the PnP scene, it’s likely to be the drug you’ll encounter most, and is used for boosting your energy, sex drive, and the physical sensations of sex while reducing inhibitions.
It’s most commonly smoked or injected (slamming), but can also be shafted/boofed (inserted rectally) or snorted, and the effects can last from anywhere between 4-12 hours depending on your dose and means of use.
There are some specific things you can do to keep safer and have a better time if you decide to use meth during a session:
- Smoking is one of the safest ways to use meth – remember to use a shatter-proof glass pipe, and try to wrap a rubber band around the mouthpiece so that you reduce the chance of burning your lips.
- Shafting is a similarly safe choice, though can increase your HIV risk by damaging the lining of your anus – if you go with this method, dilute your meth in fresh, clean water and use a syringe (without a needle) to insert.
- If you decide to inject, remember that PrEP research hasn’t yet shown that it offers any protection from HIV from this possible way of acquiring it. Always use sterile equipment (spoon, needle/syringe), and don’t share this between partners – you can get sterile gear from a local needle exchange and some pharmacies.
- Look after yourself during the comedown – the acronym NEST (Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep, and Time) is a handy way to remember some things to focus on during this time.
- Mixing meth with depressants (e.g. alcohol, benzos, GHB/GBL) can amplify the negative side effects and increase your chance of overdosing, so remember to reduce your dosing if you choose to take more.
In the PnP scene, it’s likely to be the drug you’ll encounter most, used for boosting your energy, sex drive, and the physical sensations of sex while reducing inhibitions.
GHB/GBL (aka G, fantasy, liquid ecstasy, waz) are depressants, slowing down the body’s functioning and giving feelings of euphoria, disinhibition, and relaxation, generally lasting up to 2.5 hours. G is most commonly mixed into a drink and swallowed. There’s a significant difference between the two Gs: GBL is metabolised into GHB in the body, and has a faster onset/higher potency. It’s super important if you’re buying G to find out which version you have if possible. As the active dose for G is so low (0.3mL), the risk of overdosing is pretty significant – this is a drug you should really measure. There’s a wide variety of things you can do to stay safer while using G:
- Dosing G is very dependent on body weight/tolerance and potency varies a lot between batches, so copying a play partner’s dose isn’t always the way to go – if in doubt (especially if you’re unsure if you have GHB or GBL), start small at 0.5-1mL, less is more with this one.
- Doses “stack” over time, so reduce your dose slightly each time if you plan to re-dose (1mL, 0.9mL, 0.8mL, etc.). It’s a good idea to space out your doses by a minimum of 1-1.5hrs to avoid overdosing.
- Measure out your doses in advance if you can, and set timers or make a spreadsheet with everybody’s names/dose times – G can impact your memory significantly, so this helps to stick to your limits.
- Store G in a non-drinking style bottle, or add food colouring to it to reduce the chance of somebody drinking it accidentally.
- Mixing G with other depressants (ESPECIALLY alcohol) is not a good plan – they amplify the effects of one another, and significantly increase your risk of overdosing or “G Drop,” which can be fatal – call 111 immediately in this situation.
PnP is an intense experience and, for some, can be harmful. The combination of substances used can makes people really out-of-it and there are reports of people experiencing sexual violence when they were unable to consent. If this has happened, you can contact the police. Our counselling services are available for help and support.
GHB/BGL and methamphetamine have risks of dependence. If you are using more than you want to, comedowns are affecting other parts of your life and the unpleasant effects outweigh the pleasant ones, consider making some changes or visiting the New Zealand Drug Foundation for some tips on how to cut down.
- Are using outside of PnP sessions
- Are using more to get the same effect
- Have had people express concern
- Are spending more time and money on drugs than you want to
- Are using to avoid a comedown
- Are experiencing poor mental health
Please reach out to get some support.
ReWired is a free, non-judgmental programme for people using methamphetamine that want to change their relationship with it.
If you’re a guy (cis or trans) who has sex with other guys and want support to review, reduce or stop your meth use, Rewired is for you. If this sound like something you're interested in, register for ReWired today.
Over the eight weeks, we will cover a range of topics like intimacy, relationships and navigating sex, as well as topics specific to using drugs, like safer partying, meth and the brain, relapse prevention, and more.
We work in a harm-reduction model. This means that we meet each person where they are at and support them to shape and reach their individual goals.
ReWired is brought to you by Burnett Foundation Aotearoa and NZ Drug Foundation.
You can see the stories of some of our previous ReWired participants below: