Chemsex, or sex under the influence of illicit drugs, is not a new concept, but the phenomenon is becoming worryingly common place and reaching increasingly dangerous levels, particularly among the UK’s gay community.
The advent of the smartphone and the rise of hook-up apps, such as Grindr and Tinder, means that it is easier than ever before to arrange casual sex and when coupled with the increasing availability of cheap drugs, such as mephedrone, crystal meth and GHB, the harm can be lifelong.
Sometimes lasting a whole weekend, a typical chemsex party involves a group of men, meeting up, stripping down, snorting, swallowing or “slamming” (injecting) drugs before having group sex.
The euphoria-inducing drugs reduce inhibitions, sometimes to the extent that men can’t differentiate between partners, let alone determine if they are being safe.
There is little research into the practice, but 56 Dean Street, a sexual health clinic in London, estimate that as many as 3,000 gay men, who use drugs during recreational sex come through their doors each month.
A recent editorial in the British Medical Journal described the practice a serious public health concern.
“Chemsex drug users often describe losing days – not sleeping or eating for up to 72 hours – and this may harm their general health. Users may present too late to be eligible for post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV transmission,” the report states.
“Many barriers exist to chemsex drug users accessing services, including the shame and stigma often associated with drug use and ignorance of available drug services.”
A new documentary from Vice explores the British chemsex scene, providing unprecedented access to parties where it goes on and interviews with many young men find themselves trapped in a cycle of addiction.