I live underneath a real good poet, architecturally speaking. My building has been home to many poets (and still is). When I moved in in 1975, Allen Ginsberg had already lived here for a few years. He moved out in the mid-nineties when he made a lot of money from selling his archives, less than two years before he died. Rene Ricard, the notorious poet and aesthete lived here in the eighties, drug- and clothes-rich via the art of the painters he’d helped to make glamorous, like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Julian Schnabel and Francesco Clemente. He was smoking a lot of chemicals at the time and had to leave the building after he nearly burned it down twice. Jim Brodey lived here. Larry Fagin lives here and so do Simon Pettet and John Godfrey. (Look them up.)
John Godfrey is a real good writer, sort of a poet’s poet, and he lives in the apartment directly above me. After I gave him a copy of my first big book of poetry back in 1991, he said he could tell what drug I was on when I wrote each poem. This kind of hurt my feelings, but I had to laugh, because the truth was I usually was on something or other when I wrote the things in that book (if for no other reason than that I was usually on something or other all the time). I could also laugh because, by then, I felt pretty secure that the drugs hadn’t done the writing any damage, except for in my case reducing its quantity (which, I guess, on second thought, is a serious type of damage . . . ). But I do think there have been a lot of good poems written on drugs, and even more good sex enabled. It’s too bad the drugs are so wearing on both one’s body and judgment.
I think every drug that has any recreational appeal improves sex, if for no other reason than that they all reduce inhibitions. Even the ones that make you nervous, like speed, also make you aggressive and seductively eloquent and increase your consciousness of your nerve endings, the greatest number of which per square millimeter of course are concentrated in the classic erogenous zones (as opposed to the romantic erogenous zones, like ankles and necks). Furthermore, the very act of two people using drugs together is a demonstration of willingness to surrender to and even transgress in favor of the sensual.
Probably the most eccentric acts of sex I had under drugs took place on cocaine. I had a couple of serious cocaine periods when the drug was widespread in the late seventies and early eighties. I was a tired heroin addict at the time and the coke livened things up. Because my band was pretty popular locally I could get together income as needed. I had the committed street junkie’s snobbery and preferred to shoot every drug. I would have injected marijuana if I could — in fact, I did shoot up THC a couple of times. In the cocaine era I’d sometimes go for days shooting up every twenty minutes or half hour.
The scab on my forearm was like a long brown zipper. I would cut the toe out of a sock and pull it up to the elbow of my left arm whenever I needed to wear short sleeves in public. (I remember visiting my mother at her house near the Virginia coast back then. We’d go to the beach and I had to wear the sock. My sweet mother didn’t like to be faced with bad news and weirdness, but finally toward the end of the week she had to ask about it. I was ready. “Everybody in New York wears them,” I scoffed.)
But yeah, back to sex on cocaine. My fondest memory is of a technique I developed in the darkest days of that era, when I’d often find myself crazed in my apartment at 2 or 3 a.m. after many hours of solitary cocaine use, having arrived at a state where I was unable to think of anything but sex. Actually there were two techniques; this is the first one. I didn’t just want sex, I wanted it precise and detailed and extended. Cocaine abuse brought out the megalomaniacal scientific erotomane. I wanted sex that was both as dirty and as close to permanent as possible.
I hit on the idea of calling up a likely girl and asking her to come over and let me draw her naked crotch. That seemed like a good point of departure. It was effective. She’d come over and take off her pants and underpants in the dead silent 3 a.m. apartment and lie on the bed with her knees up and parted and I’d stretch out on my stomach between them with a drawing pad and pencil until we both came. (The other technique was one I used when the paranoia level got too high to make phone calls: substitute a full-length mirror for the girl.)
I haven’t done LSD or any other heavy psychedelic since I was in my twenties, except for psilocybin once or twice when a girl I liked turned out to have a mushroom bent. We ended up standing in makeshift scant costumes against opposite walls of the room, staring at each other and jerking off. (To revert to the poem/drug subject for a moment: the only deliberate drug poem I remember having a hand in was a collaboration done on mushrooms. We took turns at a typewriter, trying to spell “psilocybin.” I still have that sheet of paper somewhere and it makes me feel a little stoned whenever I come across it.) I always craved sex when I was high on acid, but I think it was too exhausting. You don’t want to be profoundly uncertain about what just happened and feel yourself disperse and clump and merge with an alien cohort and see your pulsing components glow and splotch, and be pierced by the significance of some new commonplace again and again, etc., etc., etc., multiple times with no respite or end in sight all that often. Things are complicated and demanding and confusing enough already. And anyway I mean “psychedelic orgasm” is kind of redundant.
I was never much into tranquilizers either. I had sex on quaaludes a few times. All I remember is pillows, that and breasts. Brain feathers, big rubbery nipples . . .
Contrary to conventional wisdom, sex is really best on heroin (opiates). First of all, heroin doesn’t make you crazy like cocaine does. You don’t end up down on your hands and knees picking at white specks in the carpeting, in a state of feeling continuously startled, like a horror movie. No. Heroin is cozy. Heroin is voluptuous. It also seems to stretch time, most certainly in the case of a user’s erection.
I remember laughing when I read in Bird, the Charlie Parker oral history, some amazed anecdotes about his sexual stamina. (There were also awed accounts of his uncanny ability to nap on the bandstand, then rouse himself just in time for a solo.) Dope works wonders. True, if a user is inclined to try and maintain the most extreme, near-comatose grade of opiate intoxication, sexual potency might suffer — and doubtless there are those so single minded that any distraction from their desired nod is considered obnoxious — but as a general rule, a good day-long high holds a plump sweet spot of eight to ten hours, the entire length of which it’s simple to elongate a single amazing fuck. The ideal way to spend a rainy day.
For what it’s worth, I haven’t done drugs in a long time. I don’t even drink or smoke any more. It doesn’t feel like a loss. Frankly, whenever I hear anyone refer to drugs casually, presuming a naughty shared affection, it annoys me, gives me the creeps. I’m not a member of that brotherhood in smirks. On the other hand, I’m not ashamed of my history (obviously). Drugs are now so pervasive that there’s no real stigma attached to using most of them anyway, with all the psychoactive “therapeutic” ones available, even the many which are physically habit forming, like Xanax and Ativan and Klonopin.
My feeling is that the influence of a drug, if it’s a drug powerful enough to noticeably affect the experience of sex, in a real way subsumes the experience into itself. When you have sex on drugs, you’re having sex with the drugs, not sex with a human. That’s cool too, I’m not disparaging it. Everything is chemical after all, most emphatically including people. One could make a case that sex itself is a drug — it sure does flood the nervous system with pleasing molecules and charges. Or, on the other hand, one could say that love is the drug that does the most to make sex good. That’s another subject, though, and one too corny or at least too complex for me to try to treat here.
This piece first appeared on Nerve in June of 2003.