Just what is “Chemsex?”
Well, it means using drugs as part of your sex life. It’s most common among MSM (men who have sex with men).
According to a study published in HIV Medicine, MSM living with HIV who engaged in chemsex were three times more likely to say they were “very unhappy” with their sex lives than those who didn’t. Additionally, these men were more likely to report missing doses of their HIV medications; and on occasion, they also reported not fully consenting to sex and experiencing drug overdoses.
Typically, there are three specific “chems,” or drugs, involved: methamphetamine, mephedrone, and GHB/GBL. These substances can make users feel less inhibited and experience more gratification. Let’s drill down on them.
Methamphetamine, a stimulant, is also known as crystal meth, crystal, meth, tina, and crank.
The drug makes the user feel alert and aroused; but on the flip side, it can make them feel agitated and paranoid.
Additionally, methamphetamine can raise your heart rate and blood pressure—leading to heart problems. There have also been reports of psychosis, as well as evidence of long-term mental health issues and brain damage.
Highly addictive, this drug–this chem–can lead to death if you overdose.
A stimulant, mephedrone is also known as meph, drone, or meow meow.
This chem makes individuals feel alert, aroused, confident and euphoric. But the reverse can occur: making users feel sick, anxious, and paranoid.
Rather addictive, mephedrone can cause insomnia, sweating, dizziness, and hallucinations.
GHB and GBL.
GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) and GBL (gamma-butyrolactone) are sedatives, also known as G, gina, geebs, and liquid ecstasy.
GHB and GBL are usually oily liquids that people mix with a drink and swallow. These substances cause people to feel euphoric, less inhibited, and sometimes sleepy.
With GHB and GBL, it’s difficult to know how much of the drug you’re taking; as a result, it’s easy to overdose. And in some cases, this can trigger a fatal reaction.
And then there’s “slamsex,” (a variation of chemsex), which is engaging in sex after injecting drugs. These types of chemical-fueled sexual activities often include multiple partners. In Europe, there have been reports of escalating rates of chemsex.
According to Poz.com, in the recent cross-sectional study, Gary Whitlock, MD, and his colleagues practicing at London’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic asked 500 people attending HIV clinics each in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and Greece to answer a 36-item questionnaire about HIV care, sexual behavior, recreational drug use–and chemsex. In total, 1,589 HIV-positive participants answered the questionnaire: the United Kingdom had the most respondents (512), while Italy had the fewest (159). Thirty-eight percent was the median age, one percent identified as transgender, and the remainder identified as gay or bisexual cisgender males.
Almost all participants–96%–were on HIV meds, with 84% reporting an undetectable viral load. Three out of four stated that they hadn’t missed any antiretroviral doses in the past two weeks, while 17% reported missing one or two doses. Twenty-one participants said they had missed seven or more doses in the past two weeks.
According to Dr. Whitlock, when asked whether the participants were happy with their sex lives, the majority responded that they were either “very happy (24%) or quite happy (40%).” Only 6% said they were “quite unhappy with their sex lives,” while 3% were “very unhappy.”
The physician continued. “And those sex lives appeared to be active ones: One in four participants reported having one partner in the past year, 17% reported two or three partners, 13% reported four or five partners, 12% reported six to 10 partners, 6% reported 16 to 20 partners and 14% reported 21 or more partners. In addition, 13% reported fisting or being fisted by a partner in the last year.
“As for drug use, 45% said they’d used drugs recreationally; more than half of these said they used marijuana most frequently, followed by cocaine (43%). Participants also used common chemsex drugs, like GHB/GBL (35%), crystal meth (34%), ecstasy (28%), and ketamine (17%). GHB/GBL was the most favored drug for chemsex, followed by cocaine, mephedrone, and ketamine. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that one in four participants reported chemsex during the last 12 months, and one in 15 (6.5%) reported slamsex, or sex after injecting their drug of choice. Methamphetamine was the most common drug used for this kind of sex.”
Chemsex and slamsex were most common in the United Kingdom, where 44% of participants reported chemsex. The few transgender study participants were just as likely to engage in chemsex as their cisgender peers.
Dr. Whitlock added, “When asked whether chemsex caused unwanted side effects, 41% of participants agreed. These included 7% of participants who went to an emergency department, 6% who were injured injecting drugs, 7% who had a drug overdose, and 6% who reported having sex without full consent.
“One in four people who engaged in chemsex said it had negatively impacted their work and social lives, and 28% reported that it hurt their intimate relationships. A full 15% sought professional help for their chemsex use. People who had chemsex were also three times more likely to report being very unhappy with their sex lives and 2.5 times more likely to miss doses of their HIV medication.”
In conclusion, Dr. Whitlock emphasized, “This study indicates the particular importance of sexual health and psychological needs of HIV-positive [men who have sex with men] engaging in chemsex, paying particular attention to those engaging in injecting drug use practices.”
Yo! Safeguard Yourself.
If one must indulge in chemsex/slamsex, the LGBT Foundation offers tips for risk reduction. These include:
- Use condoms and lube.
- While you’re sober, set ground rules about what you do and don’t want.
- Don’t share needles.
- Take PrEP to protect against HIV.
- Get tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Important: avoid mixing drugs with alcohol or any other substances; and if you do indulge, do so around other people whom you can trust.
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