Drugs and sex have always been entwined. Whether it’s the old cliche about hotel rooms, prostitutes and cocaine, or the young having fun and partying, and then hooking up after taking MDMA.
However, chemsex is a fairly new phenomenon.
What is chemsex?
Chemsex generally refers to gay or bisexual men using drugs specifically to have sex.The drugs involved tend to be either crystal methamphetamine (also known as crystal, meth, sometimes colloquially called Tina), GHB (aka G), and mephedrone. Although this may also happen among heterosexuals, it’s statistically more unusual, and chemsex generally refers to a mode of behaviour found in the gay community.
How does chemsex happen?
Chemsex may mean an encounter between two people or it may happen at a private party or a club. Sometimes dealers may arrange sex parties for men who don’t know each other, or they meet online. A chemsex party may be for a night, but the nature of the drugs - they allow men to have sex for longer without climaxing - means they can go on for days, with more people joining in.
What drugs are used?
The following drugs are often used - either on their own or in combination, which of course makes them more dangerous,
Crystal meth is an amphetamine is a class A drug. It is known to lower sexual inhibitions, and has been linked to sexual abuse and brain damage. When too much is taken, drug users may suffer a stroke, and organ damage which may in turn lead to coma and death.
Mephedrone also known as meow meow is a Class B drug and a stimulant similar to ecstasy and speed. It can make you extremely happy and with it - but this may turn to feelings of paranoia and anxiousness. The body may not be able to regulate its temperature, and this leads to serious health problems - including death.
GHB (gammahydroxybutrate) and GBL (gammabutyrolactone) are Class C drugs. They make the user feel relaxed and euphoric. It also makes receiving sex less painful. It is extremely dangerous when mixed with alcohol. Users may lose consciousness, slip into a coma and die.
What are the dangers of chemsex?
Of course the drugs themselves are dangerous. Users can’t even be sure what they are taking. But there are other issues with chemsex.
• Unprotected sex more likely
• Increased likelihood of HIV infection and other STIs
• Greater risk-taking affecting personal safety
• Psychological and physiological dependence
Should we be concerned about chemsex?
Reporting of chemsex can be problematic. It veers from moral panic against people having recreational sex, to a wall of silence and denial. However, those in the gay and bisexual community who work in health and health promotion believe there is a genuine problem which needs to be addressed. A British Medical Journal published an editorial last year suggesting that chemsex needed to become a public health priority, citing the rise in HIV infection as evidence that ‘chemsex’ culture is adversely affecting the gay community.
There is a high personal cost for individuals. The death of 18-year-old Miguel Jimenez was a result of taking GHB. GHB was also used by serial killer Stephen Port who murdered four gay men. Then, of course, there are the men who may not die, but become locked in a vicious cycle of dependency because of chemsex.
Get help for chemsex
Dmitri Popelyuk is a Consultant Psychiatrist who practises at The Maudsley where he is in charge of a team of doctors and psychologists. Dr Popelyuk treats a range of emotional and mental health issues at his private clinic, based at Twenty-five Harley Street, and one of his specialities is sex addiction. He has experience of treating individuals who are seeking help with problems connected to chemsex.
Patients are assured of a professional and discreet approach.
Dr Dmitri Popelyuk practises at 25 Harley Street.