Chemsex, the practice of using drugs as part of your sex life.
Whether harder drugs like GHB/GBL or methamphetamine, or lighter drugs like weed or cocaine, sex under the influence of drugs, to any degree, is a form of chemsex.
Commonly, substance abuse is also a form of suppressing issues within our sex life or self-esteem.
Whether the use of drugs during sex is minor, or it’s considered ‘under control’, chemsex can be extremely dangerous, and it’s important proper precautions are taken to protect yourself.
The act of engaging in chemsex can be rooted in a common avoidance strategy within our community, further into the article we explain the intrinsic links between LGBTQ+ mental health and chemsex, but let’s first explore chemsex more closely.
There are two key substances that people typically use when engaging in chemsex:
However, all other substances used during sex is also considered chemsex. Commonly other major drugs are:
In a large demographic of our community chemsex is normalised. It’s openly discussed as a fun practice to heighten the feelings of sexual pleasure.
However, there are significant risks that come with taking drugs while having sex, and these risks can have dire consequences if users are not properly educated and equipped to manage the risk accordingly.
The most common risks and traumatic experiences of chemsex are:
When under the influence of drugs, our inhibitions are released and our ability to think logically is lowered. This can lead to reckless and dangerous behaviour and further increases all the following risks open to you
Often when we’ve taken drugs, we can be easily influenced into taking combining other substances. This can be extremely dangerous when combined drugs have dangerous reactions to each other.
Some of these combinations include:
A huge risk when engaging in any form of drug use is the risk of overdose. People often associate overdose with heroin, failing to realise that all drugs pose a risk of overdose.
In 2018, Paddy Bloor, a young gay man, died of an overdose from GHB at a chemsex part in Brighton. An aspiring, intelligent person with his whole life ahead of him, was another casualty to the chemsex scene due to limited education on drugs and their risks.
We recommend listening to his story “Chemsex: The Party That Kills” by journalist Ollie Leitelmeyer.
Some drugs used in Chemsex can be injected. If you and your sexual partner or partners share needles, this can lead to infection, which can lead to contraction of diseases like HIV, hepatises A and B.
Users should know you can contract HIV whether you inject drugs into the vein, under your skin, or into a muscle. It’s therefore critical not to share injections with others.
The most common risk that we take when engaging in Chemsex, and indeed the root cause for a lot of these issues, is becoming addicted to chemsex and the substances. When we’re addicted, we can become reckless in our pursuit for pleasure. We may begin to neglect our relationships with families and friends, as well as make irresponsible decisions with our finances.
Addiction can be a long and downward spiral for many people and continue to tear apart the lives of LGBTQ+ people of all ages. If you think you, or someone you know has become addicted to drugs, refer to our support article here.
One of the largest risks we take when having sex under the influence of drugs is to neglect the use of protection. Unprotected sex can lead to the contraction of STIs like HIV and chlamydia.
To prevent this, you should feel confident talking directly with sexual partners about protection and your sexual health boundaries:
Make sure you also get tested on a regular basis so that you can talk to others about your sexual health status and to catch sexually transmitted infections early to prevent spreading these to others.
A common, and often unreported crime within the community, is rape on unconsented sex during sex parties.
When we engage in Chemsex our ability to consent may be loosened.
It’s an unfortunate reality that a lot of people get raped or sexually assaulted during Chemsex as their ability to consent has been taken away through the lowering of inhibitions.
It is also possible to be spiked during Chemsex which is why it’s so important to know where the substances you take come from.
Alternatively, you may take too much of a substance or combine substances, and ‘go under’, preventing you from having any control of your body or mental awareness.
It is not uncommon for gay men to report ‘thinking they were raped’ after taking a substance, but not remembering clearly, and feeling they have themselves to blame because ‘they self-administered the drugs’.
If you think you were raped during Chemsex, it’s important to report to the police as soon as possible.
For support with this horrifying occurrence, you should use the NHS’s resources here, and the Rape Crisis helpline here.
While Chemsex can be found amongst people of any sexuality, Chemsex and gay people have a particularly potent history.
In a community with a reputation for its party culture, it makes sense that some of us make the leap from sniffing poppers in a club to taking drugs in the bedroom.
As reported in the opening of this article, researchers find that people use substances as a way to build rapport with sexual partners – whether that’s because our self-doubt subsides under the influence and we’re more confident engaging with others, or we’re using substances as a tool to find common ground with others. It’s likely a combination of the two.
Irrespective, this inability to find rapport, or form a genuine connection, with our sexual partners is something that a lot of people in our community suffer with. It’s what leads to the heightened levels of sex addiction. Sex addiction, in effect, is used as a way to validate ourselves, when we feel we don’t have true belonging with those around us.
Further to this, many people participating in chemsex may resort to substance use to dull negative feelings that plague a lot of us in our community.
When under the influence of drugs, we can suppress feelings of inadequacy and lack of confidence, as well as internalised homophobia or shame surrounding our LGBTQ+ identity, or HIV status.
These are just some of the many common mental health conditions that affect our community, and are the reason many in our community end up addicted to drugs. You can find more information about here.
Furthermore, practitioners of Chemsex may partake to distract from the realities of other issues in their lives. Due to the inherent marginalisation and rejection of LGBTQ+ people, our community proportionately has higher rates of homeless youths, and for those of us who don’t end up homeless we may find difficulty holding jobs, or maintaining finances, for the simple crime of being ourselves. Chemsex can be an attractive release from these realities.
Due to these common issues impacting all LGBTQ+ people, chemsex, sex addiction and drug addiction impact all demographics of the community. There is no one pocket of the community unaffected by this – from the financially stricken artists to the successful banker, chemsex is used to hide us from the pains we feel inside. No amount of money, prospects or class privilege can shield our community from it’s risks.
One of the first steps toward seeking help for any addiction is often to admit that we have a problem. This can done to ourselves, a trusted loved one, family member or friend.
With support from even one person, the burden of our problem becomes infinitely easier to carry. This person can often look at it objectively to help find you the right support mechanisms, and help you make the first steps toward discussing our problem more openly.
Unfortunately, in our society where there is so much shame and stigma attached to the idea of being addicted to something, this can be extremely difficult. Throughout our media, education, and public perception, addiction is treated as an awful affliction that is too disgusting to talk about. This messaging, much like the messages our community faces everyday about ourselves, can be very easy to internalise and lead to deepening feelings of shame and an unwillingness to talk.
It can be very difficult to break this conditioning but what’s important is to remember that your loved ones love you for a reason, they want to see you thrive. Therefore, while it may be scary to open up to others about addiction, it is important because our loved ones can be the crutch that help us to the road to recovery, and out of the darkness.
If you have come to the realisation that you may need support in recovering from addiction, one of the best resources you can access is the NHS. The routes available to you:
You can also search our directory of LGBTQ+ counsellors and therapists.
Alternatively, reach out to us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will help signpost you to support available to you locally.
For LGBTQ+ people, we recommend using sexual health clinics as a primary outreach centre. Staff trained in these centres are usually highly sensitive to your LGBTQ+ identification, the inherent physical and mental health risks we face, and create safe, non-judgemental spaces for us to talk openly about our sexual health needs. Something you won’t always find with a local GP.
At sexual health clinics, you will be able to take STI tests and have open and frank conversations about your sexual health.
Clinics like these will be able to advise you on precautions and safeguarding measures you can take to ensure you are being sexually healthy when engaging in chemsex.
In Manchester, the MRI clinic offers integrated sexual and reproductive health services across the city of Manchester and the boroughs of Stockport, Tameside and Trafford. The service also provides easily accessible clinical advice and support to a range of health professionals including GPs, practice nurses, pharmacists, and other contraception, sexual health and HIV teams across Greater Manchester.
The Hathersage Centre, the main hub of the service, co-ordinates postgraduate training for health professionals from across the Northwest.
In London, 56 Dean Street is an excellent sexual health clinic with a slew of resources dedicated to helping members of the LGBTQ+ community remain sexually healthy.
In Glasgow, Men who have sex with Men can find expert and understanding sexual health advice at the Sandyford Sexual Health Service.
In Edinburgh, the Gay Men’s Clinic is open at Lothian Sexual Health.
In Cardiff, the City Clinic has a specialist sexual health service for men who have sex with men to provide full sexual screenings and advice
In Northern Ireland, The Rainbow Project works hard to provide inclusive sexual health resources.
These include clinics at the Belfast LGBT Centre and the Belfast Trans Centre as well as in Foyle LGBT in Londonderry/Derry.
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