Most people I meet have gone through at least one promiscuous phase in their lives. Men are more likely to seek out multiple sexual partners than women. And legend has it that gay men have access to more promiscuous sex than any other demographic.
Hookup apps have made casual sex easier to find than ever before. Anyone with a Grindr profile will know that you can log in to find numerous messages from people who are online, near to your location and looking for something 'right now.' And more and more people on Grindr are looking for 'chill outs.'
The phrase is misleading. A chill out is essentially a sex party. In the argo of Grindr, you may well find a profile that reads 'H & H.' This means high and horny. The profile may then change to 'H & H. 4 playing.' This means that the high and horny person has now found three other people in a similar state of mind.
I had gone out may way to avoid this more extreme fringe of gay sex culture. But eventually I decided to give it a go.
My first chill out was at a fancy house in North London. I got there and found five guys ranging from the ages of 20 to 40. They were all good looking, high and not wearing any clothes. Skipping over the vulgar details, I decided to leave at some point the next day.
I was quite overwhelmed by the level of hedonism that was on offer. As I found it agreeable, I decided to go to another chill out. There I found a similar situation, but in a less grand setting.
I met people for whom chill outs were a way of life. They were unable to enjoy sex unless 'chems' (drugs) are involved and numerous potential partners. I realised that however many people are present, there is never enough. One of the recurrent motifs of chill outs is to see a room full of men who don't know each other staring at their phones, looking for more action on Grindr - irrespective of the fact that the action is already in the same room as them.
One guy I spoke to said, 'The problem with Grindr is that there's always the next person.' This is true. You just have to log in and your phone will ping with new messages. It is not uncommon for two guys to hookup, do their business, go their separate ways and log straight back into Grindr. They will notice that they are both online, again. The casualness of hookup culture devalues sex. Unless you are truly comfortable with endless promiscuity, the ephemeral nature of the pleasures on offer can be numbing.
Perhaps it's inevitable that the sheer availability of causal sex encourages people to go to the next level. To look for more extreme ways of getting their kicks.
Up until the 1950s, a novel could centre around whether or not the hero and heroine will get married. If they eventually manage a tentative kiss on page two hundred, they may well feel earth shattering pangs of lust. But I know gay men who would consider three new partners a week modest.
Nobody was talking about chill outs - or 'chem sex' - when I first moved to London in 2008. Quite suddenly it has become prevalent on the gay scene, and it is growing. As one in eight gay men in London have HIV, the prevalence of drug fuelled orgies should be a cause for concern.
The 'chems' on offer are invariably methadone and GHB. They are easy to find and relatively cheap. They are also incredibly potent. Chill outs can drag on for an entire weekend. Without the drugs you would not be able to stay awake for so long. As the sleep deprivation combines with the high, you can loose control of yourself very suddenly.
Most gay men do not go to chill outs. But the sheer availability of drug-fuelled orgies means that many are. Drugs diminish your self awareness and place you in high risk situations. The health hazards are self evident. There is also the danger of loosing the ability to have sober sex with one partner. Constantly looking for the next high is the key characteristic of addiction. And addicts know as well as anyone that that next high is so elusive. Feelings of isolation and depression are far more likely.
There's nothing wrong with being promiscuous as long as you are responsible. Self destructive behaviour is a sign of self loathing. Chem sex is more likely to deepen the void within than fill it. As it becomes more normalised within the gay community, it may be worth acknowledging that we have a problem.