POZLife: Life from the Infected and Effected point of veiw.

Two faces of meth on the Web

Posted by pozlife on September 13, 2006

Online: A sex partner to get high with and warnings about the dangers are both easily found.

By Jenny Marder
Staff writer

LONG BEACH – They’re as subtle as a thunderstorm. Sweat glistening on copper skin, men pose lasciviously and scantily clad, marketing their bodies like produce.

Hundreds of homoerotic sites that exist online are not only an endless buffet of sex, but of drugs, namely crystal meth. So much that many men in recovery cite the Internet as one of their most powerful temptations, and triggers.

Some say the Web plays a frightening role in fueling the spread of meth and, in turn, HIV in the gay community. But the Internet also plays a part in promoting safety, deglamorizing the drug and educating users about its crippling effects.

At first glance, the personals sections on popular gay Web sites such as http://www.manhunt.net, http://www.bareback.com and http://www.gay.com, are similar to heterosexual dating sites, just racier.

Enter Party and Play.

Party and Play, or PNP, is Internet code for sex and any combination of crystal meth, Viagra and MDMA, also known as ecstasy. The code, if you know where to use it, has aided easy access to both crystal meth and sex partners, in part triggering the Internet’s new moniker in the gay community: “bathhouse of the new millennium.”

Paul Duncan, who began using meth three years after being diagnosed with AIDS, spent countless hours on sites like http://www.gay.com, http://www.bareback.com and even Yahoo Messenger looking for “tricks” (partners) and Tina, a common nickname for crystal meth.

“I liked it better,” he said. “It didn’t cost any money. I didn’t have to go to the bar, I didn’t have to go to the baths. I didn’t have to go to a parking lot.”

Debbie Collins, manager of the HIV and STD prevention clinic at the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services, blames the Internet for the rapid growth of crystal meth over the past five years. She calls the Web the “fuel for fire” for meth use and HIV.

Upon entering http://www.bareback.com, a warning comes up: “This site contains highly graphic imagery and text. If it is a violation of the standards of your community or if you find graphic content personally offensive, you should leave now.”

In addition to racy personal ads, the site includes a calendar of sex parties.

“When they’re talking about partying, 90 percent of the time, they’re talking about meth,” said Patrick Piper, a behavioral interventions trainer who leads workshops on crystal meth and its role in the gay community.

But the site also has a message urging HIV-positive men to limit sex to others with the virus.

Piper argues that there’s a flip side to the Internet. Behind a computer screen, men often feel more comfortable disclosing their HIV status or insisting on protection with casual sex partners. And negotiation that might be difficult face to face is easier in the anonymous online setting.

“On these sites, you can check what kind of sexual behavior you do or don’t want to engage in,” Piper said.

Indeed, there are profiles that say “No PNP,” and HIV-positive men “seeking positives.”

In 1997, Michael Siever started a popular Web site for gay crystal meth users called http://www.tweaker.org. Though somewhat controversial, the site’s primary mission is providing users with information on how the drug could be affecting their body and lifestyle.

“We’re trying to be different from government messages that tend to hit you over the head with the egg-in-the-frying-pan thing,” Siever said.

Leading into the site is an animation of a hyper-masculine man with a wicked smile and devil horns. Siever calls him the speed demon.

“He represents what you feel like you will become on crystal,” Siever said. “It makes the shiest wallflower the life of the party. It makes you feel omnipotent, able to do anything. Everyone becomes sexually attractive, everyone becomes this stud.”

But deeper inside the site is a caricature of the other side of crystal meth: a man, shaking and sweating, considerably gaunter than the speed demon.

Some protest the more controversial aspects of the site.

Alison Kogut, deputy press secretary at the Office of National Drug Control Policy calls sites like http://www.tweaker.org harmful and dangerous.

“Harm reduction accepts and allows the continued and unabated use of harmful substances and the loss of people cannot be recovered,” she said. “At best, harm reduction is a halfway measure and halfhearted approach that invites deceit.”

But Siever said men have stopped using after reading about effects of the drug on their brains, hearts, kidneys and livers.

“For every complaint, we get 20 or 30 who call and say, ‘Thank God, it’s wonderful, it saved my life.”‘

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