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About chemsex


Publication1As 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

Chemsex is a common term used by gay men using any combination of the following drugs before and/ or during sex:

  • Methamphetamine (crystal/ crystal meth/ Tina/ meth)
  • Mephedrone (meph/ drone)
  • GHB/GBL (G/ Gina)

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.

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."

Other definitions of chemsex

Chemsex: More Than Just Sex and Drugs | Adfam and London Friend

Chemsex is the term used to describe sexual activity between gay and bisexual men under the influence of specific drugs, usually methamphetamine, mephedrone and GHB/GBL, to enhance and stimulate the experience. Sometimes the drugs are injected, which is known as ‘slamming’. It often takes place with multiple sexual partners and sessions of long duration, sometimes over several days. Those that engage in chemsex often report unprotected sex and other risky behaviours."

Chemsex: More Than Just Sex and Drugs | Adfam and London Friend

What is chemsex? | Avert

Chemsex involves using drugs to enhance sex. Usually people do it to change the physical sensations they have during sex (increasing pleasure and their ability to have sex for longer), or to change their psychological experiences (increasing their confidence or removing inhibitions). Chemsex can last for many hours at a time and often with multiple sexual partners (for example at parties) but can also just involve a couple or lone masturbation. It is most common among gay men, but straight people often use drugs and alcohol to enhance sex too and there can be sexual health (and other) risks for them as well. The three most popular drugs used during chemsex are:

    • gammahydroxybutyrate/gammabutyrolactone (also known as GHB/GBL, G or Gina)
    • mephedrone (meph or meow)
    • crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth)

They are taken on their own or together with alcohol or other drugs (such as cocaine or ecstasy).

What is chemsex? | Avert

A position paper from organisers and participants of the 2nd European Chemsex Forum, Berlin | 22-24 March 2018

Not all sexualised substance use is chemsex.

Chemsex is a particular type of sexualised substance practice amongst gay and bisexual men, other men who have sex with men (MSM), and trans and non-binary people who participate in gay “hook-up culture”. Chemsex connects uniquely to gay sex, in the context of how the enjoyment of gay sex has been affected by:

    • Societal attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people and gay sex
    • The trauma the HIV/AIDS epidemic has had on LGBTQ+ people and on gay sex
    • Chronic bullying of LGBTQ+ people
    • Both explicit and more covert peer pressure amongst gay men
    • The importance of shared ritualised activities in a stigmatised group
    • Community tensions about masc/fem behaviours (or self-identities) particularly in regard to the enjoyment of sex and sexual fantasies
    • Gay hook-up technologies and saunas
    • The widespread availability of chems to gay men and trans and non-binary people via gay hook-up apps
    • The reality that MSM, trans and non-binary people engaging in chemsex can also be sex workers, racial and ethnic minorities, migrants and/or prisoners.
    • They may also have mental health diagnoses, other addictive disorders, disabilities, be living with HIV and/or HCV, or out of the workforce.
    • The current trauma of so many lost gay men, trans and non-binary people as a result of chemsex.

In chemsex, different classes of substances are combined with sex to varying effects. Powerful stimulants like crystal methamphetamine and mephedrone, other stimulants like cocaine, and more recently other cathinones, are used by gay men and trans and non-binary people in the context of gay hook-up culture. Use of these stimulants plus sildenafil (Viagra) can result in long sex sessions with greatly increased high-risk sexual behaviour.

GHB/GBL is a depressant also commonly associated with chemsex. GHB/GBL is often used to ‘get into the mood’ before or to ‘mellow out’ after the speedy charge of crystal meth and other stimulants.

The power of the experience, the intensity and addictiveness of these particular substances, and the complexity of the emotional and social factors involved, can lead to problematic conditions and behaviours.

Chemsex position paper | ReShape/International HIV Partnerships

Click here to reveal

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.

The sex drug that kills, part 4: A  warning has been issued that rapists are mixing the drug GHB with lubricant | Buzzfeed | 8 Sep 2019

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?


Slamming | LGBT Hero 
Slamming | Friday/Monday | THT
Party and play | Wikipedia
European Chemsex Forum | European Chemsex Forum

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