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Foul shot.

Are asteroids a shortcut or a deadly detour in the pursuit of the perfect body?

In her book The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf explained how Western culture has pressured women into maintaining the body beautiful, often at a high cost. So Chef has a scapegoat. But who are her legions of gay male fans going to blame?

It seems the quest for that perfect body has taken a disturbing turn, as experts point out what watchful eyes already suspected. Steroids--which catapulted into the public consciousness during the 1980s with revelations of their use by high-profile athletes--are making a comeback.

Of course, in the case of combating AIDS, the muscle-building drugs can be beneficial, replenishing testosterone levels in order to fight fatigue, weight loss, and low sex drive. But health experts say abuse, even among this group, is widespread.

"There is unquestionably an increased use of steroids in the gay community that has been legitimized somewhat by usage in the latter stages of AIDS cases," says R. Scott Hitt, MD, chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. "But it helps only in the cases where testosterone levels are low."

Doctors can legally prescribe steroids--which do nothing to restore a weakened immune system--but Hitt says many are encouraging HIV-positive patients who have normal amounts of testosterone to use the drugs even when they're unnecessary.

Some patients who have a legitimate reason to use steroids are requesting double their necessary dosage, he says. "Some of them do it just because they want to get bigger; others will get it and sell it to their friends who are bodybuilders or whatever."

For most the rationale is, with rare exceptions, physical. Now more than ever, a beer gut and a gay bar don't mix. And the desperation for abs of Fort Knox only increases when people realize the silhouette they crave can be more easily achieved with a few weekly injections.

"I started going to this personal trainer who had just an impeccable body," says Paul Prusas, a 32-year-old corporate sales executive in Atlanta. "And so he put me on this program and told me I could have the same body he did if I worked out hard enough. One day I was talking to his assistant, and he's telling me that I'll never have a body like that because [the trainer] uses steroids.

"There seem to be more and more people who have adopted the motto of `don't drink, do drugs, and have a great body,'" says Prusas, who decided against taking steroids. "But you wonder how you can live that kind of life and maintain that kind of body."

Prusas is referring to the "circuit party" scene, which includes after-hours clubs filled every weekend with barbarianesque physiques (and cases of bottled water). It's no secret that the use of mind-altering drugs such as crystal meth and ecstasy are widespread among those who frequent these nightspots.

Indeed, living a lifestyle that keeps you up all weekend doesn't square with having a body that would appear to heed hours of daily gym maintenance. In some ways steroids are seen as insurance for those unable to handle two hours of working out on the Monday morning after, say, the White Party. But in most cases the drugs' renewed popularity is fueled by frustration.

Cedric, a West Hollywood, Calif., resident who did not want his real name used, recently began his first "'roid cycle" after noticing that a few of his friends with similar workout regimens were building muscle mass at seemingly twice the rate he was. When Cedric, who is in his mid 20s and has a naturally sculpted physique (he's just over six feet tall with a 31-inch waist) discovered they were supplementing their weight training with steroids, he concluded the risk was worth the results.

"It seems like more people are doing it, and no one seems too worried about it," says Cedric, an aspiring actor. While he is aware of the more obvious side effects-acne, decrease in testicular size--he believes taking such a crooked pathway to achieve the masculine ideal beats the alternative. But he concedes, "It's embarrassing to admit, and I don't think anyone feels great about doing them."

The potential damage steroids can do to a body is far more serious than pockmarks and shrunken testicles. According to Hitt, "Dramatic mood swings are commonly associated with steroid use, and long-term effects include serious liver problems."

Hitt also is concerned about what is not known about the drugs. Medical studies have been rare, and, with widespread use of steroids a relatively new phenomenon, he says it is impossible to gauge what other damage can result from their abuse.

"We do know about hormones and the delicate balance between too much thyroid and too little," he says. "The same with insulin. It's hard for me to believe it would be OK to mess around with your testosterone level like this."

But it doesn't look like the drugs' popularity will abate any time soon. Law enforcement agencies haven't made halting steroid trafficking a priority, Hitt says, and, as with the crystal-meth trade, stopping it altogether would be difficult.

"The whole scene is becoming more hard-core," Prusas says. "You just wonder when this party is going to come crashing down."


SOMETIMES HAVING YOUR HEALTH ISN'T EVERYTHING. We still worry about looking better or putting ourselves at risk. In the stories that follow, we examine some of the hidden issues--including the government's leadership--that concern our health.

Walker is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Liberation Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:use of steroids by gay men
Author:Walker, Christian
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 25, 1999
Next Article:Between women.

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