Drugs and sex have long been mixed together at least since the 1960s in the UK, but likely longer. The combination of drugs and sex is something that occurs across society, but chemsex has become particularly prevalent in the community of men who have sex with men (MSM). The issue is something that started to become noticeable in the early 2000s and has since been a major concern.
Although it could be called a subculture, the majority of gay and bisexual men do not engage in chemsex. In fact, chemsex is something that people other than gay and bisexual men participate in.
According to data from the Global Drugs Survey, gay men were 1.6 times more likely to engage in chemsex than heterosexual men. However, gay and bisexual women and heterosexual men and women were also found to engage in chemsex, although to a lesser extent than men who have sex with men.
What Is Chemsex?
Chemsex is a term used to refer to sexual activity between men while under the influence of drugs such as GHB and methamphetamine. While the chemsex definition is often restricted to men who have sex with men, it is a practice that can be carried out by anyone regardless of sexuality or gender.
Chemsex often involves multiple sexual partners and may take place over several days. The drugs are intended to enhance and prolong the sexual experience. Chemsex comes with a number of risks, including drug addiction, sexual addiction and high-risk sexual behaviours.
Chemsex drugs can include a number of different substances. Some commonly used drugs include methamphetamine (meth, crystal meth, tina), mephedrone (meph, m-cat), ketamine (special K, green, vitamin K) and GHB/GBL (G, liquid ecstasy).
The drugs used for chemsex can also present a risk outside of the context of context. These substances have addictive properties, and many people can find themselves using them more in their everyday life, as well as during chemsex sessions.
Sometimes the chemsex meaning is also broadened to include the use of alcohol before sex, which can also be combined with other substances.
Any sexual activity involving the use of drugs could technically be labelled chemsex, but the above are some of the common substances that are used, particularly by MSM. Some people inject the drugs that they use, known as slamming, but this is only a small proportion of chemsex activity.
According to the HIV Medicine Journal, gay men who engage in chemsex are five times more likely to receive a new diagnosis of HIV than other gay men. People involved in chemsex are also nine times more likely to contract Hepatitis C, and four times more likely to get any sexually transmitted infection.
A study from 2018 identified that three in ten sexually active HIV-positive MSM in England and Wales had engaged in chemsex in the past year. This was also associated with self-reported issues such as depression and anxiety, nonsexual drug use, risky sexual behaviours and sexually transmitted infections.
Another issue related to chemsex is that of non-consensual sex and sexual assault. In one study, 43% of chemsex users reported non-consensual sex.
For people involved in chemsex, addiction can become a problem. Chemsex addiction is experienced by those who take drugs for the purpose of having sex, as there is usually a distinction made between this and drug use which may later lead to sexual activity.
Drug use, in general, is higher in men who have sex with men – around three times higher in gay and bisexual men in 2011-2014 compared to heterosexual men. Use of stimulants was reported to be five times higher, and methamphetamine use around 15 times higher.
Another study found that over one-quarter of gay, lesbian and bisexual people met the criteria for substance dependence. Chemsex addiction is something that needs to be addressed as an issue that is related to this but it also its own distinct issue, as it involves not just drug use but drug use specifically for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.
Chemsex Addiction Treatment
Chemsex addiction requires a treatment approach that addresses both the drugs and sexual aspect of the addiction. It is also important to recognise the other mental health problems that might be present alongside the addiction, such as depression and anxiety.
These issues are more prevalent within the LQBTQ+ community, partly due to the societal pressures and stigma that members of the community feel. Treatment options for chemsex addiction include both inpatient and outpatient treatment, consisting of a number of different therapies.
Patients can look for treatment options from clinics that have a clear understanding of the unique needs of the LGBTQ+ community.