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Sex and Boundaries: Getting it On, On Drugs
by Sophia
Dec 2001
(Sophia is a drug educator in a youth-focused community center. She is also known
as "one-handed handstand girl" from the 2000 MTV Special on Ecstasy.)

The setting feels familiar. A young woman (or man) goes out with two friends to a club and they all drink a little. One of them has just enough 'e' for them all to get high, so they do. Three hours later, the woman realizes she's making out with both friends in the back of a cab, headed for more than she bargained for. She's not scared, but never wanted things to go this far. She enjoys the attention and it feels good and also feels obliged to finish what she very willingly started. Does this sound like date rape to you? It doesn't to me, and I do not intend to write a polemic against the evil people who take advantage of helpless people on recreational drugs.

Rather, I believe this person's boundaries got pushed. It might not be so confusing if they had prepared mentally before the date. By illuminating the issue through this situation, I want to help us understand and better manage our own boundaries. We can choose to have a strong personal sexual ethic or we can choose to let psychoactive drugs or other people make our decisions for us. I do not see this as much of a choice, so I might sound like a worried mother. Forgive me.

Most people who do recreational drugs also have sex. Some of us understand that some kinds of drug experiences, particular highs, may greatly increase the pleasures of sex, which most of us find pretty incredible already. (Of course, some drugs greatly decrease the pleasures of sex, which is another issue altogether.) But there is a steep learning curve when we start playing with these two powerful allies. The combination can be overwhelming, and it helps to have given the possibilities a thought before they slap you in the face.

If you're like me, you get out into the world. You meet people. You go out with them to interesting places. Some places and people are more likely to get sexual than others, and I prepare for that. I bring condoms, I bring lube, and I USE THEM.

At some of these interesting places I go, I take psychoactive drugs. If I think I might get high, I prepare for it. I bring rolling papers and lighters, I bring pill testing kits and water to drink, and I make a point of letting my friends know I expect the stuff to get used.

My desire often leads me into the boudoir when I've gotten high. Now, allow me this honest arrogance: I know that some of my friends want to sleep with me. I want to sleep with some of them, too. I also know that when I take certain drugs, I feel less nervous about planting my lips on one or more of my friends with a 'come hither' grin--I am more likely to act on my desires, and, yes, it does get me into some difficult situations.

As with anything you embark upon, you prepare yourself physically for the possibility of sex when you go out. You wash your bod, shave the stubble, smear on deodorant, don clean undies. But you also have to prepare yourself mentally. Do your homework. Get smart. Be pro-active. Ask yourself questions before you take the drugs-you should do this anyhow, to establish your personal mind state around the drug. Do you want to take this drug? Why? Do you feel comfortable taking the drug with the people you are with? Would you feel comfortable asking them for help if you needed it later? Have you done this drug before? How did it affect you? What circumstances might have altered that experience from the present one?

Apply the rules of harm reduction even more stringently to yourself when you add sex to the mix. Would you welcome sexual advances from any of these people? Do you have sexual or emotional history with or feelings for any of the people? Are you comfortable with those feelings? Is the other person? Could you say no (if you wanted to) to these people if sex came up? If things began to get sexual, how far would you feel comfortable going? Is intercourse too far? Is undressing?

Let's say you meet someone at a party, red eye meets dilated pupil and you go out to your car to make out. You're really enjoying it. Do you want to fuck, here, now? You might want to fuck. Your body might tell you that it wants to fuck. Do you really want to fuck? If you give each other hand jobs instead, would you feel better about yourself tomorrow?

Before you start playing the potentially high-stakes game of "Sex 'n' Rx", you should become as familiar as possible with your own sexuality while sober. Get to know which expressions of this are acceptable and healthy for you and which are not. Your sexual drives need not be your enemy; get to know them and understand what methods of fulfilling them feel comfortable to you.

Boundaries Are Fuzzy

What do I mean when I refer to sexual boundaries? You might think that you are free from the bounds of societal judgements and rules over your body. You may well be, but that doesn't mean you don't need boundaries--in fact, the most sexually evolved people I know have very clear boundaries. They know what they want from sex, they know whom they want, and they know how to say no when something else is offered. Most importantly, they know they are worth the effort it takes to make these boundaries clear to their partners (and other interested parties). Similarly, the most daring psychonauts I know have very strong boundaries about mind-altering drug use. They employ harm reduction's 'set and setting' guideline stringently, checking the situation and themselves carefully before deciding on imbibing anything.

A boundary is just a personal set of morals and ethics about your body. If we set them too rigidly, we may never experience the joys we imagine are out there for us, emotionally and physically. We can defend our personal space so well that nothing can get in. And if we set our personal boundaries too slack, we might as well not have them. Our ethics have to be strong enough to protect us from our most reckless impulses.

To discover yours, or to set yours, you need to do some soul-searching. Some people just get into new situations until they discover something that makes them uncomfortable. That works, but it might be painful to make all the mistakes you will necessarily make. There is an easier way. And this is the message of the day: think about how you would feel in various situations, and then think about why. Remember your feelings and thoughts and let these inform your personal code of ethics.

Boundaries might be about your body and what you will allow it to do; they might be about your mind and what you think about yourself and your partner; they might be about your emotions and how you feel about yourself sexually, and your relationship to your partner. The following sets of questions might help you get a feel for your own boundaries:
    Physical: What feels okay normally might not feel okay when you're high. Likewise, you may feel like going farther when you're high. Are you willing to let yourself get sexual with this person? What if it goes farther than you were expecting? Will you be ready and able to stop things if you want to? How has your body reacted to sexual advances on this drug? Some drugs present difficulties due to their particular action. For instance, marijuana can produce wetness in some women, but others tend to dry out.

    Emotional: How do you feel when you think about having sex with this person? Have you ever rejected this person's sexual advances? Could you do it high? What if someone you love doesn't want you, or if you don't want someone that you normally want? Have you talked about it? How does it feel to have sex when you aren't ready for it? Do you have a lover whom you would like to remain faithful to? Will it be hard to do that in this situation?

    Mental: Can you discuss sexuality openly? Have you discussed it with this partner? What do you know about your own sexuality? What do you know about your partner's sexuality? What do you know about the drug? Can you talk about your desires openly with your partner? Can you negotiate safer sex to meet your standards with this person, or in this drug state?
And what if you don't want to stop? That's perfectly fine. Let yourself have fun--I usually do. And it usually feels great and I feel sexy and the next day I want to tell my friends. But I have gotten myself into situations, as a consenting, intelligent, and sane adult, that I didn't expect, and that I didn't stop when I knew I should have. Maybe I wanted it. Maybe I just wasn't sure what I wanted. Maybe I didn't know how to communicate my sexual needs while I was in that particular drug-induced state.

As you can see, this gets really tricky when you add consciousness-altering substances to the sexual mix. Because of brain-state-specific thinking, some sober thoughts, such as deciding to use safer sex practices or placing a limit on how far you want to go this time, may not be accessible or clear when you are in another brain state, i.e., high. And conversely, decisions you make while on a drug, may be difficult to understand later, when you're sober.

Talk to your partner. There could only be positive benefits from sharing your intentions of the date with your friends. If you are scared that your friends will take sexual advantage of you, they might not be the friends to take drugs with...