What Is Chemsex?

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What is chemsex?

Chemsex is the process of using drugs to enhance sex. This is mostly done by bisexual and gay men, and recently, it has become a catch-all term used anytime people use recreational drugs in order to become sexually adventurous.

It is important to note the difference between drug use and chemsex. Chemsex uses specific drugs that will lead to sexual activity, while drug use encompasses all sorts of drugs including cocaine and chemsex drugs as well.

What does chemsex mean?

Chemsex actually means intentional sex under drug influence. This mostly happens with gay and bisexual men and they use specific drugs to achieve the desired “feeling,” before engaging in sexual behavior.

There are specific drugs used in chemsex practice in order to facilitate these sexual sessions that are known to last or many hours or even days and with multiple partners at the same time.

Some of the drugs like crystal methamphetamine and mephedrone, which we discuss below, have been known to increase blood pressure and heart rate, as well as trigger sexual pleasure, cause euphoria, and enhance sex.

When under these and other drugs, one’s inhibitions are lowered and this makes it hard to keep safe, while you enter into different sexual situations without a care in the world.

These are powerful feelings and according to the British medical journal, people who use chemsex drugs can sustain arousal for hours and make one feel instant rapport with different sexual partners.

They also share needles, increase health risks of Aids, HIV and Hepatitis C infections. Chemsex Users however reported using the drugs to manage any negative feelings such as internalized homophobia, low self esteem, a lack of confidence and stigma about their HIV diagnosis.

Chemsex is actually a cultural phenomenon that’s more than just sex and drugs. It is a unique way among homosexual men and bisexual men practice to enhance sexual arousal and enjoy sex and hookups with other bisexual men.

There are a few forces that have spread this sexual behaviour:

  • The many gay hookup apps with body shaming tendencies.
  • The trauma surrounding HIV infection and diagnosis.
  • Internalised homophobia
David Stuart, is the man that came up with Chemsex. His work was especially featured in the 2015 documentary – “Chemsex vice UK,” and the British Medical Journal.
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David Stuart | Creator, Chemsex Documentary

Chemsex is not just a word describing the use of drugs and alcohol to enhance sexual arousal when men are having sex with many men, including bisexual men and this simple definition and interpretation by the mainstream media is a misappropriation for the sake of exciting headlines.

Chemsex, which is a word he coined in 2001, actually describes something he saw happening in his own local gay community in South London and sexual networks. It is something very different from the use of other drugs, and other cultures.

It is a phenomenon and unique gay culture that is associated with gay hook-ups. The Chemsex influence and and substance abuse use has evolved with time due to the increased use of sex-apps.

According to David Stuart, it is mostly about using drugs to enhance sexual arousal among gay people by using three main drugs.

The general population that doesn’t have to worry about chemsex issues and homophobia will never understand what gay people go through, and the risks involved with the drugs.

What are chemsex drugs?

Chemsex drugs are the main injecting drugs used during this cultural practice, and they are; GHB/GBL, Methamphetamine, and Mephedrone. Sexual health clinics caution gay men on their sexual health and the use of these drugs inappropriately.

Let's have a look:

Methamphetamine

This is a stimulant and mild anaesthetic that’s also known as crystal methamphetamine, crystal meth, crank and tina. It is consumed through snorting, swallowing, smoking or injecting.

When consumed, it will increasing pleasure, and enhance sexual arousal while making you alert, aroused and induce feelings of paranoia and agitation.

It can also raise your blood pressure and heart rate and lead to heart related problems. There are plenty of risks involved with the use of this drug, including the risk of physical violence when you are high.

Additionally, there has been evidence of long-term medical problems and brain damage as a result of overuse, plus you can die from an overdose. Crystal meth is highly addictive.

Mephedrone

This is a stimulant as well, and it is also known as meph, meow meow, or drone. People take it through swallowing, snorting or injecting it in order to enhance sexual arousal.

It will cause you to feel alert, increase your heart rate, feel confident, get aroused and feel euphoric. You could also feel anxious, sick and paranoid as well.

The negative effects of the drug are that you may have a an increased blood pressure, headache and vomiting, have insomnia, hallucinations, dizziness, sweating and reduced appetite. This is an addictive drug. It acts as a mild anaesthetic.

GHB - GBL

These is a sedative and their full names are; gamma-hydroxybutyrate and gamma-butyrolactone. They are also known as G, geegs, gina, or liquid ecstasy. They are usually available in liquid form where people mix with drinks or swallow them.

They will cause you to feel euphoric, increase heart rate, feel sleepy and less inhibited, leading to a heightened sexuality. GHB GBL make it difficult for homosexuals to know the exact amount they’ve had and the risks of overdose are higher.

The overdose of any of these drugs – crystal meth, GHB GBL, or meph can lead to death, a high risk of HIV infection, sexually transmitted infections, hepatitis, aids, having sex without using condoms, poor health, etc. We discuss this in great details below.

You can also use them as a mild anaesthetic

Is chemsex safe?

Not always. Well, as with any substance abuse problem, one usually puts themselves at the risk of a wide range of issues, such as multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted infections, HIV and Hepatitis C infections, the need to share needles, Aids, etc.

When any of the chemsex drugs such as crystal methamphetamine enter your body, they will accelerate or slow down your heart rate, cause feelings of euphoria, heightened sexuality, and many other health concerns. 

The goal is usually to have sex with multiple sexual partners for hours on end, even days. That really cannot be safe for anyone.

Most people actually claim that the use of these drugs at parties, causes them to desire having sex without a condom, and they become sexually uninhibited leading to great health risks.

This heightened pleasure they seek comes at a cost. Aids is real in the world today, and gay men/ bisexual men have a heightened risk of contracting it at the chemsex parties.

The use of crystal meth especially, is pretty worrying, and most sexual health representatives will tell you that this leads to most deaths at chemsex parties.

Injecting drugs in your body and wanting to share needles, is way too risky for anyone not just gay men.

People with substance use disorder and HIV have stated that one of the reasons they contracted HIV was through shared needles. So, it affects the general population as well.

Healthcare professionals at the sexual health clinics have a lot of work to do in order to advice people to keep safe, especially if they are having sex with other people who are infected with diseases such as hepatitis, Aids and HIV.

The challenge here is the fact that these drugs are used for increasing sexual pleasure,

Chemsex Statistics

A South London 2018 research study, the following information was uncovered: [2]

  • The report suggested that among the people who were diagnosed with Hepatitis C, had most likely engaged in chemsex and drugs such as crystal methamphetamine.
  • This is for both genders, women as well as men.
  • That chemsex and parTiers, or PnP participants has a heightened risk of infections which was due to a barrier-free penetration that caused them to get exposed to contracting diseases like HIV, Aids and Hepatitis.
  • That people who did not know their status allowed others ways of having sex with other people who were probably HIV carriers to have intercourse with them, hence increasing their health risks.
  • That, when you are under the influence of Chemsex drugs, most people forget to take their pre exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, which is a drug designed to prevent the HIV transmission after exposure.

Now, for the sake of your sexual health, we advise you to take the following steps, which can help you reduce the risk of infection especially for HIV, when you are under substance use;

  • Ensure you set an alarm on your phone that will remind you to take your pre exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs especially if you take the three main drugs we have mentioned above.
  • If you do not have pre exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs immediately find a some advice from a healthcare professional on where you can find the drug in London so you can keep safe. It has a 72 hour window of opportunity after you are involved in unprotected sex.
  • Use a condom whenever you are engaging in sex.
  • Use sterile supplies when injecting drugs.
  • Have a drug policy that you must follow.

What are the risks of chemsex?

Chemsex drugs like crystal methamphetamine has plenty of risks that cannot be exhausted, including HIV, high blood pressure, bacterial infections, anal injuries due to prolonged sexual encounters, overdoses and overamps, choking, vomiting, AIDS, breathing difficulties, insomnia, etc.

Let’s look at some of the risks chemsex can pose: 

Bacterial infections

Chemsex parties can cause a whole lot of bacterial infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. In most cases, people think that HIV is the worst case scenario but gonorrhea is a whole other case of crazy that can completely change your sexual health life.

This happens in chemsex parties where condoms are not use, and additionally, when you inject drugs just below the skin instead of your veins, the soft tissue can cause a serious skin infection.

Anal injuries

One of the characteristics of chemsex parties is what they call “Marathon sex,” where people, often in groups will literally have sex for hours. This behavior include things such as rough sex, fisting and other ways of having sex.

When all of these things are involved with other people, there is a heightened risk of causing harm to your anus even though they will enhance sexual arousal.

You may also suffer from hemorrhoids, and anal fissures which are pretty painful and can go undetected when drug use is involved.

The best advice would be to have yourself thoroughly checked at a London hospital after a chemsex party. If you feel a heightened heart rate, you should go to the emergency room immediately.

It will help identify issues you may not know you already have.

They will screen patients for sexually transmitted infections, HIV, chlamydia, Hepatitis, and other infections, plus give you advice about your sexual health and how you can keep safe when engaging in sexual activities.

Overamps and overdoses

Although it will enhance sex, crystal meth, and other drug stimulants will put your sexual health at risk. Overamp is also known as a stimulant overdose.

The difference between these two is that an overdose is caused by downers such as opioids, while overamps is caused by crystal meth and other stimulants.

Overamps can cause the following:

  • Stroke 

This is due to the high effects of the drugs and when you go through overdose.

  • Cardiac arrest

One of the most common signs of overdose is cardiac arrest and it can lead to death.

  • Mental health crises

Your mental health will be at risk when you become addicted to chemsex drugs.

  • Overheating

When you are high, you tend to be extremely hot.

  • Signs of Overamp

Overamp is related to mental health issues such as paranoia, and psychosis. It is often accompanied by the loss of sleep for days.

Even when you do not experience any overamp, you are likely to have some form of comedown that will affect your sexual health after using any of the three main drugs. The best advice would be to be extra careful at all times.

The main signs of overdose are:

  • Shallow breathing

  • Vomiting

  • Passing out

  • Making snoring sounds

Your sexual health, as well as mental health when consuming any of the drugs such as GHB GBL is extremely important and the best advice would be to take them carefully . GHB GBL especially is pretty dangerous as you cannot tell when you are about to overdose.

How can I reduce the risks of chemsex?

By receiving the correct and accurate information on its impact on your health, especially drugs like GHB GBL that are hard to control. Be safe at all times, and follow the rules. Do not have sex without a condom and avoid overuse of the recreational drugs.

Preparing for a chemsex party:

  • Start by identifying how long you want to be at the party.
  • Ensure that everyone shares their HIV and Hepatitis status.
  • Ensure that the HIV positive people have their medications and the use of condoms is agreed.
  • Use the drugs safely, ensuring there is a limit for everything.
  • Have the PrEP medication ready for everyone.

When hosting a party:

  • Decide whether the sessions will be on Zoom, which is already popular for these parties and a great way of providing protections.
  • Decide on how many people will attend. Keeping the numbers low and specific always makes it safe.
  • Chat with the people attending about their mental health.

For any chemsex session:

  • Ensure not to mix any drugs with alcohol or Viagra. Also be mindful how many stimulants you are consuming.
  • do not share injections, smokes or boofing, this is not good for you.
  • Try and take some breaks in between the sessions in order to calm down and give your body space to heal.
  • Brush your teeth and chew sugarless gum. This is because crystal meth can dry your mouth fast.
  • Much on some snacks to keep your body healthy and strong. Also drink lots of water.

During the chemsex parties:

  • You should try and keep a log of the dosage and chems used by all the attendees. In particular, keep track of GHB GBL.
  • Have enough syringes
  • Be on the lookout of anyone who doesn’t seem to comply with the rules.
  • Have the contact number for sexual health clinics in case of an emergency situation.

Immediately after chemsex sessions:

After the sessions are over, do the following.

  • Immediately get some sleep and rest. This may be difficult due to the amount of stimulants you’ve probably had, but consider taking a shower and some chamomile tea. You could also pop some melatonin supplements. Avoid most medication as it may have a negative impact.
  • Take a short walk to calm down.
  • Talk to a friend to come keep you company.
  • Do some mindless activities such as watching TV.
  • Keep eating regularly even if you are not hungry.
  • Do yoga.

The negative effects from chemsex drugs

Chemsex drugs such as GHB GBL have the following effects on your body:

  • They cause impaired decision making
  • They tend to dominate your free time and social life.
  • They can lead to chaotic sexual encounters.
  • They will cause you to have no sexual boundaries when you are high.
  • They will bring Issues of sexual consent.
  • They will increase the possibility of contracting the diseases we have listed above – HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C, etc.
  • They are addictive.
  • They have a huge impact on your mental health.
  • They are associated with injecting drugs.
  • They cause suicidal tendencies

Worst case realities of chemsex can be:

  • Long term mental health issues
  • Police involvement and criminal prosecution
  • Overdose and death

What happens at a chemsex party?

During a chemsex party, multiple men take drugs before having sex and they will do this with multiple partners. Sometimes, these parties can go on for hours and even days. The drugs make it difficult to orgasm, but they make the users extremely aroused and keep them awake for days.

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Alex Klineberg, a South London Journalist with the Huffington Post said that:

Alex klineberg - journalist

Chemsex parties start with a bunch of guys in their underwear getting high, and as they get more and more high, they lose their inhibitions and do not care about their HIV status. You can find someone having multiple partners and going for a long period of time…

It can last for 24 hours, three days, without people sleeping, new people showing up at three in the morning. It’s very intense, very hedonistic. This is more than a bit of drug use at the weekend. [3]

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What is the association between chemsex and HIV?

Chemsex parties cause inhibitions and make people practice sex without protection. The risk of HIV is high because most of these parties are help by groups of people who are HIV positive or who do not know their HIV status.

When you forgo protection, then you will re-infect each other, and infect those who are negative. Additionally, if you are all negative, it is worth noting that you could still infect each other with other sexually transmitted diseases and infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Does chemsex represent a risk of addiction?

Yes. Any drug use has the risk of addiction, and is dangerous when it becomes an obsession and part of your social scene. Most people who engage in this practice find it hard to have sex without the drugs or they tend not to become aroused without drugs. This is addiction.

In conclusion:

So, if you have been wondering what is chemsex, we hope you are now more enlightened.

The stigma surrounding drug use and gay sex is a huge barrier that causes most people to behave in this way, and such people should really seek for help before it gets out of hand.

The drugs are usually designed specifically for LGBT people, which means it can be hard to resist.

Chemsex together with alcohol and sex, will seriously impair your mental abilities.

Alcohol is especially dangerous when combined with the drugs.

Last Updated: June 22, 2022

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.