Sex, Drugs, and EDM: partying safely in the #metoo era

Music festival attendance has skyrocketed since Nomads first started going to our hometown festival Shambhala twenty years ago. With attendance numbers in the US at over 30 million alone, it’s fair to say that the festival craze has taken off.  Lots has changed since the inception of festivals, and some things just haven’t.  Learning to party responsibly is a huge first step to getting the most out of your festival experience, but it’s not drugs alone that cause problems.

Stacey Lock is the Harm Reduction Director at Shambhala Music Festival, and runs a cutting edge approach to helping people get the most fun out of the festival, with the least amount of damage.  Shambhala has been called the gold standard of harm reduction in no small part to Lock’s work. Shambhala has been pill testing for 16 years, has safe spaces for people of all genders, has set up multi tiered drug testing, and volunteers hand out everything from tampons to dental dams. We asked Stacey to give us her best advice on how to party like a boss without endangering yourself or others.

Basic festival best practices

These should be implemented as soon as you arrive on site, or even before you go. And definitely while you are still sober. Your festival set up ensures that no one is left behind, and significantly lowers the risk of becoming vulnerable to bad situations ranging from drugs to creepy dudes. Here is Locks list in her own words.

  1. Use the buddy system

    Normally people go to festivals in groups, but it’s a mistake to use your whole group as your “buddy”, that’s how people get lost. Everyone thinks the other person was looking after the one that slips away. Make ONE buddy within your group. Stay with them. If you see them acting kind of intoxicated, stay close to them; festivals do attract creeps as well as amazing people. The creeps will be looking to take advantage of people when they are vulnerable.

  2. Make a meeting place, not every festival has a safe space, but some do. You WILL get lost. 

    There is a safe space at Shambhala this year that include all genders and if you feel vulnerable go there. Not all festivals have that kind of space but some do. Women that can’t find their tents. If they were feeling vulnerable to other dudes. Or just a good place to get tampons. It doesn’t have to be a festival-run centre, but that can be wise as it’s easy to ask a volunteer to get you there if you lost your friend. If your meeting place is, “that cool yellow teepee with some dude in front of it”, or “the crooked tree by our tent”, it may be tough to get there under the influence, or have anyone else help you find it.

  3. Make sure you do a walk through of all important areas of the festival before you get loaded.

    Festivals have lots of different areas. Know where the first aid tent and all the harm reduction and security is before you party.

  4. Know your emergency numbers and where you are.

    At Shamabhala we have an SOS number that you can call and get a response right away. It goes to help that is on site. It could also be your buddy numbers. Again knowing where you are is really important here. Let’s say you are worried that someone has overdosed, and you call to ask for help, but don’t know where you are…you need to have some idea of the lay of the land, so you can figure out where you are in an emergency.

  5. It’s not a marathon…make sure you sleep, eat, and drink lots of water.

    There will be a dance floor waiting for you when you get up from your nap. Dehydration, sun stroke and exhaustion can send people to the hospital.

  6. Have your water bottle on you at all times, don’t drink water from anywhere else.

    They have really cool side satchels that you can keep on your body, don’t put your bottle down, because -sad to say- someone could dose you. Or you could pick up the wrong bottle and it could be dosed. Your own water. On you. At all times.

  7. Wear appropriate footwear.

    The number one reason people go to medical at Shambhala is foot issues. Seriously.

  8. Make sure if it’s getting dark you have a flashlight and clothes.

    The best way to get harassed by Outreach is to wander around in the dark in a bathing suit and no shoes. It’s like a giant warning signal for us. We go check on those people right away.

Drug Best Practices

  1. Choose one person in the group who is not taking drugs that night

    If you are staying for a few days, you can revolve who is taking drugs. One person needs to stay coherent out of the bunch.

  2. Test your drugs. Test your drugs. Test your drugs.

    Everyone has different tolerances to different drugs. If I think I am getting MDMA or Cocaine, but it was cross contaminated with Fentanyl that can be an OD. You only need a tiny little bit to overdose.

    Shambhala has multilevel testing drug testing capacity, but not all festivals have that. Or you can purchase test strips here (doesn’t test for Fentynal though), or this dollar store in Vancouver is selling Fentanyl test strips.

  3. Test drive your drugs in small bumps

    You can always dose up, but you can’t dose down. You only need a little bit to see how you are affected by it. Wait at least a half hour before you decide it’s not working. Put a timer on it so you know how long it’s been (it’s easy to lose track).

  4. Make sure one person knows everything that you are taking, just in case something happens.

    Some people write it down and put it in their pockets, just in case. We’ve even seen it written on people’s arms. If anything happens the response time is so much quicker if first responders know what they are working with.

Hook Ups Best Practices

  1. Make intentional decisions while you are still sober.

    It’s not the best time to make decisions about sex when you are high…it can feel like it is, but it’s really not.

  2. Consent is mandatory in Canada, and you aren’t able to give consent if you are under the influence.

    You can be charged with assault if you have non-consensual sex with someone who is under the influence. For example: Joe Blow meets Sally and she is obviously under the influence. Joe Blow takes Sally home, she wakes up in the morning and says, “what the fuck happened last night I think I may have had sex but I don’t know.” He could be charged with assault.

  3. Check in with your friends, and make sure your friends know where you are going before you take off with a potential sexual hook up.

    You need to let your friends know before leaving with someone. You could ruin your friend’s night if they don’t know where you are. This is also the perfect time for your friends to check in and say:”hey do you even know that guys name?”

  4. Be a good bystander.

    If you see your friend is intoxicated stay by them. Be a good bystander. If you see someone who is acting kind of creepy who is targeting someone who is vulnerable, then step in. Asking, “hey do you guys know each other, what’s her name?” is a really simple and good deterrent for creeps. We do that all the time in outreach and often if someone was about to take advantage of a vulnerable person that’s all it takes for them to slink away.

  5. Use a female condom, you can insert it way before you go out and party.

    These aren’t your grandma’s female condoms (possibly the weirdest sentence ever), female condoms have been revamped in recent years and are a great way to ensure that you are protected from pregnancy and STD’s alike. A female condom works better if you put it in a half before because it warms up to your body and then it won’t sound like a plastic bag in there (true story). “I’ve heard from sex trade workers that they do this as an empowerment, that they put it in before they go out because maybe the dude won’t wear a condom,” says Stacey, “unlike male condoms, they protect the outside of the vagina as well so you are also protected from HPV and genital herpes. Shambhala carries them at Anchors and also Options for Sexual Health.” You can always bring your own, and chose the brand that works best. Also get condoms, just because.

Final words from the queen of safe festival fun?

Partying safely just requires responsible set up. “If you are too fucked up it’s hard to remember the good times,” muses Lock, “and isn’t that what we are all doing this for?”