Chem Sex: It’s been cited by healthcare workers as a contributing factor to the increase in numbers of HIV infections in London and described as ‘the health crisis decimating London’s gay scene’
And it’s growing in popularity.
Essentially it means some people taking part in weekend-long sex parties with multiple partners, sometimes drugs such as methamphetamine (Molly, Tina, Crystal Meth) are taken either by snorting or injecting it – using the term ‘slamming’ apparently in a bid to de-stigmatise shooting up – and then have sex. The slang term, chem sex, came about from the ‘community’ itself and is increasingly being used on gay dating sites as an invitation for fun, frivolous and risky sex.
The EU’s Monitoring Centre for Drugs has released ‘worrying’ findings that the prevalence of chem sex is increasing on the gay scene in localised areas in the UK.
Why? According to Alex Hopkins, writing for Beige UK 95% of people who use Crystal, do so to have better sex.
In researching for this blog, I’ve read a few interesting things about chem sex and it’s subsequent effects. Firstly, there has been a dramatic increase in cases of shigella - a disease transmitted through oral contact with faeces, previously more often contracted in less hygienically advanced parts of the world and with long-term damaging effects - attributed to chem sex. People engaged in chem sex are more inclined to take part in activities that they might otherwise be better prepared for, than when they’re high and have lower inhibitions. Secondly, I’ve read about people who became so involved in the chem sex scene they lost friends, their jobs and wasted large parts of their lives. I’ve also read about people who felt they had become nothing more than sexual objects and their own self esteem had been decimated. This is a growing counter culture, most of us know little about; for some it’s more than a Saturday night release, but a way of life. And for others it’s a terrifying addiction.
But for me, in my occupation - working to help people know more about HIV, generating conversation, demistifying and breaking the stigma around HIV and encouraging regular testing – the thing that stands out most is the massively increased risks people are prepared to take when they are high. Perhaps not a total surprise but worrying none the less. These actions are increasing HIV transmissions.
And a very small minority of people at chem sex parties, who are HIV positive, are doing this knowingly, as revealed in this shocking interview with an individual who frequented chem sex parties and learned that some of the people were openly HIV positive and encouraging those who were negative to engage in protection-less sex.
Alex Hopkins’ series of articles reports that of the people he’s interviewed for his articles, 90% of those with HIV were convinced they contracted the virus through chem sex; 60% of the people he interviewed with HIV forget to take their HIV medicine when they’re high, another perhaps unsurprising but again very worrying fact.
A study by London’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic shed light on the issue by explaining that regardless of what drugs are being used (some using alcohol as well), the effects are the same if people are taking unnecessary risks with sexual health. They forget to wear a condom or fail to take their HIV medication.
The same article talks of one sexual health clinic in London where 100 people come in a month, saying they’re using drugs for sex and haven’t had sober sex for a month.
My advice: I’m not here to say that no-one should engage in chem sex, but I can’t make light of the risks either. Know the risks of any decision you make. Understand the risks of taking any drugs; be aware of the risks of binge drinking; think about the long term implications of what you’re doing – be it addiction, rejection or the serious impact on your or someone else’s health.
Responsibility is key here. Alcohol and drugs can be blamed and often are, as it frees people from responsibility, but they do not cause unprotected sex – they remove inhibitions and allow you to do what you really want to do at that particular time. But there can be serious consequences – so be responsible.
Always use a condom and make sure you continue your HIV treatment – there’s advice from various places about putting reminders in your phone to take medication and keeping pills somewhere convenient.
Know your status before you participate. And if you have had condomless sex, get an STI screen as soon as possible. It’s always true that if you have contracted a sexually transmitted infection you’re going to be better off if you get it diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
You can find out more about HIV self testing here, where you can order a test to be sent to an address of your choice, test yourself and get your result in 15 minutes with 99.7% accuracy.
With chem sex being featured in the healthcare – and more recently celebrity – press, its popularity could grow.
Don’t be another statistic. Think before you put anything into your body… and you can feel free to interpret that statement anyway you like.