As far back as 1999, New York Magazine's article 'Nightlife ‘99: Clear And Present Danger' said “GHB first became a fixture at raves and gay “circuit parties” in the early nineties. The FDA declared the drug unsafe and illegal to market in 1990, and several states have banned it because of its use as a date-rape drug.”
And before the word chemsex was coined, 'slamming', PnP, 'parTy', 'HnH', and 'chem friendly' were/ are shorthand for gay men using a new generation of drugs, the slang appearing on hook-up apps like Grindr, Bareback Real Time (BBRT), Gaydar, and Scruff. Chemsex, as it would eventually be called, is not the same as popping a pill, snorting a line, or smoking a joint, rather it's a specific form of recreational drug use.
What is chemsex
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."
Real Chemistry Simple Definition
More recently, Antidote's Real Chemistry workshop manual's simple definition of chemsex says it's "the intentional use of drugs to help enhance and/ or facilitate sex."
Real Chemistry | Antidote
The chemsex narrative
Like people everywhere, gay men have been taking drugs for years, and it wasn't so long ago some of us were dropping 'E's. Today it's 'chemsex' and professionals are over it like a rash with opinions, forebodings, perspectives, predictions, and research. While understandable, it wasn't so long ago gay men were under a similar microscope during the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
Some argue that while the word chemsex does what it says on the tin (sex on/with chemicals) it is yet another unhelpful label ascribed to gay men. What do you think? What is new, however, is that if and when guys 'crash and burn' using these drugs, the consequences are more damaging, more lasting, and require more complex and comprehensive intervention, recovery, and support. 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 the 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 chemsex narrative continues to unfold but it's particularly concerning that 'G' is being used to spike drinks and lubricants with the intent of sexual assault and rape, coupled with increasing instances of burglary and murder. Even if you know next to nothing about chemsex the names Reynhard Sinaga, Gerald Matovu and Brandon Dunbar and Stephen Port should be familiar to you. If not, go find out!*
Today, we have a much better understanding of chemsex, its implications for gay men, and the wider LGBT+ community. However, we have ways to go, not least of all providing appropriate and adequate support.
Terms you may have heard
Unfortunately, these and other terms are often lumped together which is not necessarily helpful in understanding what is happening and why.
- Slamming - another word for injecting and the practice of dissolving crystal meth or mephedrone in water before injecting it into yourself or someone else
- Chems - drugs, typically crystal meth, mephedrone and GHB/ GBL (also known as "G")
- 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 other drugs may be used.
- Tweaker - 'tweaking' means making minute adjustments to something, like using a small screwdriver to repair a radio. Doing this can include a turn to the left, the right, back again, left again ... so it's not a stretch that it's also slang for someone exhibiting repetitive, sometimes compulsive, behaviour. And so not a stretch again that it's used to describe a highly-strung easily distracted individual into chemsex which can also relate to making minute adjustments to a drug dose to get the desired high. Anyway, that's our explanation. Let us know if you have a better one?
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