Content Warning: the following text contains references to alcohol and other drugs. People who have experienced problematic usage of these substances may be challenged or triggered.
Statistically, queer people are more likely to use alcohol and other drugs in recreational settings than the general population. We’re also more likely to find ourselves in periods of problematic usage of these substances. Fortunately, over many decades the LGBTIQ community has also built complex systems of community care into our social networks, to make the partying we do as safe as possible.
However, that safety cannot be taken for granted or assumed. Keeping us all safe requires ongoing work, from all of us. This becomes particularly important when alcohol and other drugs intersect with sex, otherwise known as “party and play”.
What is “party and play”?
“Party and play” is a term that has typically been associated with certain types of queer sexualised drug-taking, particularly in the instance of gay/bi men engaging in “chemsex”, which means combining drug-taking and sexual activity.
However, the reality is that “party and play” happens across the LGBTIQ community, via a range of different types of sexual activity intersecting with alcohol and other substances.
It’s important to acknowledge that the substances some of us use when we party have the ability to do harm. The potential for harm starts with ourselves. Every alcoholic drink or recreational drug we consume has harmful qualities that should be considered before we take it, as well as monitored while we party.
When it comes to sex and substances, we have a duty of care to ourselves, our partners and the people around us. There is not a universal experience when it comes to these substances: your friends and partners could have completely different reactions, associated health risks or tolerance levels.
What about consent?
Alcohol and other drugs can lower our inhibitions, which can be seen as helpful in social and sexual situations. However, these substances can also impact our ability to make decisions.
Being affected by these substances is no excuse for illegal, unethical or inappropriate behaviour. [LINK TO: https://www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/find-legal-answers/sex-and-law/sexual-assault]According to Victorian state law, you are not able to give consent if you are so affected by alcohol or drugs that you cannot freely agree [END LINK].
Ensuring we have enthusiastic consent from our partners is an essential part of good sex. When those partners are new, or in anonymous settings, it can be harder to pick up cues that they might not be enjoying themselves.
If you suspect that your partner may be affected by alcohol or other substances, the responsible thing to do is to cease sexual activity and confirm that they are giving you enthusiastic consent. Even if you’ve only just met them, or you’re in a non-verbal environment like a sex party or sex on premises venue, this is crucial to the safety of yourself and those around you.
How to play safe
During a party and play session, it can also be difficult to assess what is happening with our own bodies. Some substances raise your pain threshold, meaning you may not be able to sense when a particular sex act is hurting you. If you are being penetrated, bound/tied up, or engaging in other BDSM practices, you may not realise play has gone too far until harm has already been done.
If you are penetrating or practising BDSM on a partner during a party and play session, take extra care to monitor the situation. Don’t just check in with a partner verbally: keep an eye on their body, particularly the part of the body you are focused upon, so you can stop immediately if you suspect harm is being done.
The many ways in which we take care of each other in party settings is something all LGBTIQ+ people should be incredibly proud of. For many LGBTIQ+ people, our party spaces have a sacred quality to them. There is a reason many queer folks refer to our party scene is our “church”: this is where we come to commune, connect, and feel safe.
No shame in seeking pleasure
Through this model of playing safe, LGBTIQ+ people invented the “party angel” – a rover system of carers that is now replicated across mainstream festivals and dancefloors. That same system of care has extended to party and play settings, in homes and sex parties and venues.
We should never feel ashamed about seeking pleasure and intimacy in party and play settings. Rather, we need to focus on continuing our proud tradition of self-care and community care, as we seek pleasure and intimacy in a variety of settings.
Addiction can be a very real problem when it comes to the use of alcohol and other substances. If you think you might be experiencing a period of problematic usage of alcohol or other drugs, you can engage with the following services.
WEBSITES (all ages)
WEBSITES (18+ only)