As is the case when any underground activity enters the public consciousness, a stream of sensationalist media is sure to emerge in response. 2016’s moral panic of choice has been over chemsex; the use of certain drugs to facilitate and enhance sex for gay and bisexual men. Chemsex has been the subject of a number of headlines and thinkpieces recently, following a number of deaths where chemsex is thought to have been directly implicated, and comes after the release of the documentary Chemsex for Vice, involving harrowing testimonials from those involved in the scene. What is needed most though, amongst the horror stories and fearmongering, is open and honest information about chemsex, and how to partake in it safely and responsibly.
Pairing sex and drugs is no new phenomenon, and research suggests that gay men are more likely to use drugs than the general population; what makes chemsex distinct is the use of specific drugs to enhance sexual experiences, usually in group settings during parties that can last for a number of days. Mephedrone, GHB or GBL, and crystal meth (sometimes known as M-Cat, G, and Tina, respectively) are used to increase arousal and stamina, release inhibitions, and allow users to engage in more ‘extreme’ sex. There are a number of risks associated with the practice – overdose and dependence are common (especially on G), risk of transmitting HIV and other STDs is increased through bareback sex and sharing needles, and boundaries and consent can become blurred by the effects of the drugs.
Whilst awareness of the risks associated with chemsex is vital, it’s important to remember that those engaging in it are a minority within a minority – we are not witnessing an epidemic of dangerous hedonism within the gay community, as many reports might suggest. However, despite increasing awareness of what chemsex is, there is a worryingly limited amount of support and information available to those who need it. Neither drug use nor kink need to be dangerous, and there are ways to make both safer whilst still enjoying them, and it is this we should be focusing on to ensure the safety of those who choose to partake in them. Without it, we will only see an increase in the horror stories.
For more information about safe chemsex, speak to the Terrence Higgins Trust or visit www.dean.st.
[Hannah Burke –@hannahcburke_]