Chemsex involves using one or more of three specific drugs (chems) in any combination, to facilitate or enhance sex, with or without other drugs.
These three drugs are meth, meph and G.
Methamphetamine/Crystal meth - also known as Tina- is a powerful stimulant that comes in the shape of ice-like crystals or as a powder, and is snorted, smoked or slammed.
What does it do? It makes you feel very horny, compulsive and it can make you feel very focused on sex. It reduces your inhibitions.
What are the dangers? As it lowers your inhibitions, it can lead you to have unsafe sex and expose you to STIs, including HIV and hep C. If you share needles to inject Tina you also risk injecting HIV or hep C directly into your bloodstream. Because it keeps you awake, you can experience mild hallucinations or think you hear whispers which can become more profound the more regularly you take it. Withdrawal can include short-lived psychosis, insomnia, irritable moods and depression.
Is it addictive? Crystal meth is highly addictive.
Mephedrone - also known as Meow Meow and m-cat- is a powder drug which is usually snorted and sometimes slammed.
What does it do? It makes you feel excited, energetic and generally quite bubbly. It keeps you awake and is often used for chemsex as it keeps you going.
What are the dangers? Apart from making you gurn uncontrollably, it makes you twitch and sweat, and it also narrows the veins and makes your heart pump faster. It has horrible comedowns and, if you've been up for days, can cause drug-induced psychosis. It can lower inhibitions especially when mixed with other drugs like G and crystal meth, which could put you at risk of HIV and STIs.
Is it addictive? You can become psychologically dependent on the meph, which can lead to you craving it.
GHB/GBL* (G, Gina).- is a liquid drug that you drink.
What does it do? It increases the desire for sex and reduces inhibitions. Users can feel confident and it’s regularly used during chemsex sessions as it's one of the few drugs that enables a hard-on.
What are the dangers? As it lowers inhibitions and makes you horny, you are more likely to put yourself at risk of HIV and other STIs by having unprotected sex. It's really easy to overdose on G, as just 0.5ml over the recommended dose can put you in a coma. Don't mix with booze as this can affect your breathing.
Is it addictive? Very. Many users find themselves dosing many times a day, just to avoid difficult and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. You can become addicted even in the space of a week if using regularly.
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 who, due to a lower inhibitions, may experience less fear of contracting STIs including HIV and HCV. Sharing injections is common.
Some of the reasons why men engage in chemsex:
· To feel more sexually free and to overcome intimacy issues
· To overcome fear of rejection, sexual shame
· To cope with stigma over HIV/hepatitis C (HCV)
· To overcome problems in the past, including sexual abuse.
· To overcome internalised homophobia.
· Wanting ‘better’ sex, that lasts longer.
· Wanting intimacy, to connect to others, to feel part of a community.
· Wanting sexual affirmation.
· Because “everyone’s doing it”.
· Because it is an online hook-up ‘norm’.
· Peer pressure.
The Side effects and impact on lifestyle
Side effects from chemsex both when high and afterwards are more severe than other commonly used recreational drugs.
Chemsex is associated with more extreme behaviour and risk:
· Extended sex for many hours. A session can last several days. It is common to not sleep.
· Sometimes just two people for an extended period. Sometimes multiple partners, multiple times. New people might join and leave a party over several days.
· Extreme sexual disinhibition. People use chemsex to do things that they don’t usually do. Safe sex is less important or not important.
· Extreme sexual focus.
· Side effects include overdose (fatal), paranoia, psychosis and black-outs.
· Not being able to consent to sex when unconscious or highly intoxicated; increases risk of assault.
· Drug interactions can be serious and difficult to predict (i.e. between alcohol and GBL/GHB).
· Meth and meph are often injected. Injecting is called “slamming”. This risks injection-related infections and blood-borne infections like HIV and HCV.
· STIs are common and frequent. This includes HIV, HCV and, currently, a shigella outbreak.
· Multiple and repeat use of PEP.
· Multiple HCV re-infections.
· Low adherence to ART by HIV positive people on treatment.
· Serious short and long term impact includes chronic depression, anxiety, weight-loss, paranoia, psychosis.
· Loss of lifestyle stability in terms of employment, debt, housing, partnerships and friendships.
· Increased use of GUM, STI, HIV and counselling clinics and services.
Can I have chemsex safely?
Chemsex can never be 100% safe.
Men who have sex with men often join chemsex parties randomly through social apps, personal contacts or organised sex parties. They may be planned by one person or a group of people and they may not necessarily have safety precautions or understand the dangers involved. If you decide to join a chemsex session then it is important you take personal responsibility for your own safety.
Some of the precautions you can take are:
· Safe Sex Packs - Have plenty of safe sex packs, including lube and gloves (if you are fisting)
· Slam Packs – DO NOT share needles. Make sure you have enough slam packs at hand.
· Get Information – Make sure you totally understand the dangers around the drugs you will take and the after effects. This will help you plan how to manage them.
· Bareback – Most often chemsex parties can result in Men barebacking. If you’re not comfortable barebacking then make this clear before you attend. However, when under the influence of drugs and alcohol, you may make choices which you otherwise would not. Make sure you fully understand the risks entailed.
· PrEP – Many guys are using PrEP to prevent HIV transmission. Although this is a good measure to reduce HIV it will not prevent transmission of other STI’s
The bottom line is chemsex comes with risks which cannot be avoided, whether they are HIV, STI’s, sharing needles or having an impact on your well-being.
To keep yourself safe, stay informed, stay resourced and seek support if you’re not sure.
Get screened for Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV and hepatitis C. Chemsex puts us at higher risk for these infections. If you're HIV negative, and concerned about any HIV risks during a Chem Sex episode, you can ask your clinic or any hospital for PEP, a medicine which can help protect you from becoming infected if taken within 3 days of the possible exposure.
Chemsex support in Manchester
Reach Clinic - open every Wednesday
Upper Brook Street
0161 276 5204
Further support - Alcohol & Drugs
5 Richmond Street
Tel: 0345 3 303030
For details on testing and other information and support call 0345 3 30 30 30 or visit: lgbt.foundation/testing
Sexually Transmitted Infections
To find out where your nearest sexual health clinic is visit: lgbt.foundation/clinics
You can access PEP (a course of HIV meds) within 72 hours to reduce your risk of HIV infection. lgbt.foundation/pep
If you feel unsafe at any time while you are on chems, make sure you get to the A&E department of your nearest hospital.
Help to reduce the risks from the sex you have when using chems
UK’s only LGB&T run and targeted drug & alcohol support service.
020 7833 1674 (10am-6pm, Monday to Friday). Ask for one of the Antidote Team.
Chem Sex Support– London
For gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men in London