Before the word 'chemsex' was coined 'slamming', PnP, 'parTy', 'HnH' , and 'chem friendly' were shorthand for gay men looking for and using a new generation of drugs, first appearing on apps like Grindr, Bareback Real Time (BBRT), Gaydar, and Scruff.
However 'chemsex', as it would eventually be called, is not the same as recreational drug use - popping a pill, snorting a line of coke, or smoking a joint, for example - rather a specific form of recreational drug use.
Here is a working definition from ReShape - an independent London-based think tank formed to respond to the ongoing crisis in sexual health.
Chemsex is a common term used by gay men on sexual networking sites and smartphone apps. Chemsex is defined by the use of any combination of drugs that includes three specific drugs (“chems”) before or during sex by MSM (men who have sex with men). These three drugs are meth, meph and G.
- Methamphetamine (crystal/ crystal meth/ Tina/ meth)
- Mephedrone (meph/ drone)
- GHB/GBL (G/ Gina)
The definition applies specifically to MSM who are disproportionately affected by HIV/ STIs, and can be more likely to have a higher number of sexual partners. Chemsex is associated with some cultural drivers unique to gay men and communities that include psychosocial idiosyncrasies and new technologies (geo-sexual networking apps) that can facilitate faster introduction to new partners, and to "Chems".
Chemsex commonly refers to sex that can sometimes last several days. There is little need for sleep or food. The heightened sexual focus enables more extreme sex, for longer, often with more partners and with less fear of STIs including HIV and HCV. Sharing injections is common.
More: click the link below for the full definition, and more about Reshape.
The chemsex narrative
Gay men have been taking drugs for years and it wasn't so long ago we were dropping 'E's. Today it's 'chemsex' and professionals are over it like a rash with opinions, forebodings perspectives, predictions, and reports.
What is new, however, is that if and when guys eventually 'crash and burn' the consequences are more damaging, more lasting, and require more complex and comprehensive intervention, recovery, and support.
However, we should also be mindful:
"The truth is that for some gay men it never becomes a problem – they engage in it occasionally and recreationally, maintaining the ability to disengage when they wish to. But for others, it does become a problem. It can interfere with other aspects of life, such as work, family life, friendships and relationships. Engagement in chemsex can increase risk of serious infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C. The risk of death from overdose is a significant one."
Rusi Jaspal | Enhancing Sexual Health, Self-Identity and Wellbeing among Men Who Have Sex With Men | 2018
"Not all chemsex is problematic. Though all chemsex carries the risk of harm, often this harm is minor, and users judge it worth the cost of the positive experiences they have. Some people may not experience harm at all. But there is a particular set of skills required to manage chemsex with less harm. This involves harm reduction, boundaries to protect one’s life from detrimental consequences, an ability to self care and to care for others, and an appreciation of sober life and sober recreational activities. Through learning and using these skills, some gay men can manage chemsex recreationally and in ways that minimise harms."
Chemsex Position Paper | European Chemsex Forum | 2018
"The needs of men engaged in chemsex are not best served by suggesting chemsex is universal. In fact, suggesting that it is universal runs the risk of giving the impression that it is both inevitable and impossible to escape. Most gay men in Britain, even in its gay centres, are not having chemsex."
Ford Hickson | The Conversation | 21 Jun 2016
The truth is the chemsex narrative continues to unfold though deeply concerning are developments that drinks and lubricants (for sex) are being spiked with the intent of sexual assault and rape, coupled with increasing instances of burglary and murder. Check out: The sex drug that kills, a Buzzfeed investigation (September 2019).
We have a way to go before we have a more rounded understanding its its true extent and (long term) implications for gay men, men who have sex swith men, and the wider LGBT+ community.
Terms you may have heard
- Slamming - another word for injecting and the practice of dissolving crystal meth or mephedrone in water before injecting it into yourself or someone else
- PnP - shorthand for 'Party and Play' used to arrange 'sex and drugs' hook-ups online where there will be drugs, or you may be expected to bring some
- parTy - using drugs with an emphasis on Tina aka crystal meth (smoked or injected)
- HnH - high and horny
- Chem friendly - any combination of Methamphetamine (crystal/ crystal meth/ Tina/ meth), Mephedrone (meph/ drone) or GHB/ GBL (G, Gina) ... though others drugs may be used.
Unfortunately these and other terms are often lumped together which is not necessarily helpful in understanding what is happening and why.
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