‘Never drop without your significant other, cause that way lies ruin’: The boundary work of couples who use MDMA together

Anderson, Katie; Reavey, Paula and Boden, Zoë (2019). ‘Never drop without your significant other, cause that way lies ruin’: The boundary work of couples who use MDMA together. International Journal of Drug Policy, 71 pp. 10–18.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2019.05.004


MDMA has a variety of pro-social effects, such as increased friendliness and heightened empathy, yet there is a distinct lack of research examining how these effects might intertwine with a romantic relationship. This article seeks to compensate for this absence and explore heterosexual couples’ use of MDMA through the lens of the boundaries they construct around these experiences. Three couple interviews, two diary interviews and eight written diaries about couples’ MDMA practices were analysed. Douglas’ (2001) and Stenner’s (2013) work around order, disorder and what lies at the threshold between the two are employed here. This conceptual approach allows us to see what happens at the border of MDMA experiences as crucial to their constitution. Two main themes are identified in the data. First, MDMA use was boundaried from daily life both temporally and corporeally: the drug was tied to particular times in people’s lives as well as the performance of rituals which engaged the material world and reenchanted everyday spaces and selves. Secondly, other people are excluded from MDMA experiences to varying degrees in order to preserve the emotionally intense space for the couple alone. This paper claims that MDMA use forms part of a spectrum of relationship ‘work’ practices; a unique kind of ‘date night’ that revitalises couples’ connection. Hence, MDMA should be recognised as transforming couple as well as individual practices. Finally, it is suggested that harm reduction initiatives could distinguish more ‘messy’ forms of emotional harm and engage with users’ language of ‘specialness’ to limit negative impacts of MDMA use.

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