Words by Stuart Haggas | @GetStuart
Photography © Chris Jepson - www.chrisjepson.com | @chrisjepson


HIGH AND HORNY?

They range in age from 18 to 57. 60% are single, 40% are partnered/married. Some live in London, Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and other major cities, while others inhabit smaller towns including Bath, Gloucester, Llanelli and Stoke-on-Trent. Their professions include teaching, healthcare, marketing, IT, financial services, barista, scaffolder, cabin crew; some are students, some are unemployed. 50% are HIV-negative, 39% are HIV-positive, and 11% don’t know their current status. This cross-section of 123 men have one uniting factor – they told FS about their recent and frequent experiences of having sex with other men while using certain drugs, a practice known as chemsex.

NATURAL PROGRESSION

Jonathan is a 21-year old student from Birmingham. He first got into chemsex via a fuckbuddy he met on a dating app. “I haven’t had a full-on party per se, but the experiences I’ve had usually start with me and one person, a fuck buddy or now my boyfriend,” he says. “We would take either G and m-cat or just m-cat – sometimes injected, mostly sniffed. Then once this had taken full effect, we would get increasingly horny, start fucking and playing around for a bit, then get fixated on the mobile hook-up apps.

“Sometimes we found others who would head over in the early hours. Other times I would hook up with another guy or guys, and carry the one night into two days.”

“I got into it through clubbing in Vauxhall and at East Bloc,” says Ben, 27 from Newcastle. “Me and my partner would go there and select couples to come chill out with us, take drugs, and fuck. For days on end sometimes.”

“From the party scene, in particular Vauxhall,” agrees Danny, 28 from London. “It always happened spontaneously. A group of guys in a house on G and meph wearing very little. It’s almost inevitable!”

“My first few times were at parties,” says Jay, 48 from London. “Just because it was there.”

“I got into it through play with my ex and with friends/fuck buddies,” says Ben, 33 from Liverpool. “I enjoy drugs and enjoy sex, so it was a natural progression.”

“It started via Grindr,” says Joe, 35 from London, “and grew from there. I’d done drugs in clubs in the past and this seemed like the next step. Now everybody seems to be doing it.”

JUST ANOTHER DRUG?

You could argue that all kinds of people have sex while under the influence of all kinds of disinhibitors, so why is chemsex any different?

“It’s likely that alcohol is still the drug that is most often responsible for people making poor decisions about their sexual safety,” acknowledges GMFA’s Matthew Hodson, “but it doesn’t have the same disinhibitory impact as some of the other drugs that are now available. The kind of chems that are used in chemsex can create an illusion of invulnerability, as well as making you feel really horny and uninhibited. In terms of HIV risk, that’s a really dangerous combination.”

“While there is strong evidence to support the disinhibiting effects of alcohol, studies show that the chems gay men use to enhance their sexual experiences act as an even more powerful and intense disinhibitor,” agrees Andre Smith of Positive East. “Chemsex drugs dramatically reduce the user’s ability to consciously reflect on, or rationalise, risky and more extreme sexual behaviour that he would not normally consider or engage in.”

“Chemsex is different in that it’s defined by the use of three particularly dangerous drugs: crystal methamphetamine, mephedrone and GBL,” David Stuart of 56 Dean Street explains. “HIV rates among gay men in London began rising again at the same time that chemsex, Tina, meph and G became normalised parts of hooking up.”

“Thus far, chem use has been confined to a relatively small group of men,” Matthew adds, “but there is mounting evidence that it is affecting more and more men each year, and over a wider geographical area.”

BUMP AND GRIND

Chemsex isn’t just about group sex – couples who are dating or in committed relationships are as likely as anybody to experiment with chems. But as Jonathan indicated, the potency of these drugs means that one sexual partner is often not enough, so a one-on-one session can evolve into more, more, more.

Of the guys who shared their stories with us, 77% said they have chemsex at home, 41% have chemsex at chill-outs, 44% attend one-off chemsex parties found via dating apps and chatrooms, 20% have regular chemsex parties they attend, and 21% use chems at gay saunas. 

So what exactly happens at a chemsex party?

“People will usually strip down to underwear, shorts, etc. It usually starts off quite sociable, and gradually people will pair off and sex will start to happen in front of you or in side rooms,” says Chris, 26 from London. “Eventually everyone will be naked and high usually on G or mephedrone or sometimes crystal meth. People come and go, and often new people will be invited via apps. More often than not guys are spending more time scrolling through apps trying to find someone else than engaging in sex with the people at the party. There is usually porn playing and large orgies taking place. Tops will often take it in turns to fuck bottoms.” 

“It usually starts off with just a few mates,” says Matthew, 32 from Hull, “then half a line or two, and guys start playing, usually followed by getting the pins out, and the slamming starts. Then phones come out to put Grindr on to get more guys round. Before you know it, the house or flat is full of guys you don’t know all getting high and fucking each other, or all sitting around naked talking rubbish.”

“I’ll organise a chemsex party with selected twinks, have drinks and after a few hours I’ll cut lines of crystal meth on the table and get everyone to sniff small lines,” says Marty, 33 from Belfast. “It will hit us in 20 minutes and then that’s when the sex party comes to life. The feeling of euphoria and the sexual desire kicks in and with the hot flushes everybody starts to get very horny and strip off their clothes. Before you know it, people are having sex everywhere. The sex goes on for hours; guys are so off their heads and having the most intense sex ever in multiple bareback sessions. The drug turns you into a sex demon and the sex will go on until there is no alcohol or drugs left. People will literally pass out all over the house. Sometimes the party can last all weekend.”

HIT AND MISS

A group of near-naked, high and horny guys isn’t necessarily a recipe for sexual bliss. 

“It depends on the type of the people at the party, the quality of the chems available,” says Ade, 36 from Gloucestershire. “It’s very hit and miss but when it’s great it’s mind-blowing. When it’s bad it’s really bad.”

“It depends on the make-up of the group and the chems being used,” agrees JP, 31 from Birmingham. “With a disparate group of people using lower grade chems it can be fun but there’s a lot of stalling and nerves. With more confident or comfortable people and harder chems it can get really wild, with people playing out long held fantasies including being a cumdump, bondage, piss, etc.” 

“As a top I’ve found that timing the chems is important to avoid losing hardness. It’s also good to take chill out breaks to ensure you don’t peak too soon,” says Ben. “I’ve seen guys have to leave after an hour or two as they’re too twatted, or some just pass out on the sofa and can’t enjoy the fun.”

“Drugs, drinking, people talk a lot of shit, then you select the person who repulsed you the least and fuck. This is the basis of every group session I’ve been involved in,” says Daniel, 26 from Birmingham. “I’ve used recreational drugs since I was a teenager and the advent of Grindr facilitated the marriage of the two. I enjoy it at the time, invariably, although the sex can be quite poor given the physical limitations that are par for the course. However it’s sometimes a compulsion, driven by the drug. The sex is soulless and I’d like to stop, I see it as barrier to lasting intimacy, as when high I just want to fuck.”


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APP ADDICTION

As some have already indicated, guys who attend chemsex parties often spend time scrolling through dating apps on their phones, generally to see what other guys and parties are around.

“Most recent ones I have been to, people are slamming T and going on the apps for a couple of hours until someone says ‘shall we do some more T and then get started?’ Everyone does more, then goes straight back on the apps,” says Jay. “Usually at that point I leave. When I ask if people are having a good time they all say they are. Maybe, just maybe, this is the new ‘safer sex’.”

“I don’t like it if no one is playing with each other but instead everyone is on their phone chasing the next shag,” says Stefan, 43 from London. “I am after a connection with a guy or guys actually present in the room.”

“It’s very antisocial,” says Chris, 42 from London. “A lot of guys are constantly on Grindr looking to invite more guys or to find the next party to go to. New guys come and go.”

STIs

Of the guys who told us about their experiences, 42% said that condoms and lube are always provided, and 47% said they’re sometimes provided, with just 11% saying they’re never provided. Despite condom provision, it nevertheless seems that chemsex is often unsafe, with 27% saying it’s always bareback, 62% saying it’s a mix of bareback and condom use, and just 11% saying condoms are always used.

“Generally people will use condoms but sometimes they will run out,” says Chris. “There’s sometimes conversations and debates about going bareback. If everyone wants to then it will happen.”

“When high I crave sex that is seen as forbidden or extreme, so I won’t consider condom use as a top or bottom,” admits JP.

“There seems to be a relationship between chemsex and unsafe behaviour, so men who use chems are more likely to pick up STIs,” acknowledges GMFA’s Matthew Hodson. 

“There are downsides, including rising STI rates,” agrees David Stuart. “But caring about ‘rising STI rates’ or ‘HIV statistics within the gay community’ might not be the main priority for someone using drugs. The priority is experiencing a feeling which can’t be replicated off drugs, a feeling which promises the solution to so many things, a feeling that may just be worth all the consequences chems bring.”

KILLER SEX

STIs aren’t the only risk, as Matthew elaborates. “The chems themselves can also have serious health consequences, including damage to the heart, liver and kidneys, and mis-dosing can result in coma or death.”

Although 82% of the men we spoke to believe they know how to dose correctly, 18% admitted that they didn’t. The majority said they learned to dose from friends, fuck-buddies or experience. Others credited the internet and YouTube as their source of knowledge.

“Experimenting, learning from others, especially with G,” says Stefan. “I had a session with a THT drug liaison worker, so I always use a 1ml syringe and note the time and dose I took in my phone.”

“I’ve overdosed a few times on G,” admits Chris, “so now I take a smaller dose every hour.” 

“Trial and error!” says Jay.

“The physical downsides reported by the clients I work with include post-chem hangover symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy and exhaustion, which increasingly affect the way they are able to function both occupationally and socially,” adds Andre Smith. “Others include exposure to STIs, overdosing, addiction, withdrawal symptoms and an inability to have sex without chems. Mental health downsides include guilt, paranoia, anxiety, worry, intense bouts of depression, lost time and even psychosis.”

SAFER CHEMS

Are there safer and more responsible ways to enjoy chemsex?

“A person who loves their life, appreciates the benefits of responsibilities and routine; a person who has a good network of genuinely supportive friends and a healthy social life; a person who enjoys chem-free sex and intimacy regularly, will have a better chance of using chems safely,” explains David Stuart. “Having clear boundaries about how frequently one plays is crucial, and the time away from chems needs to be filled with authentic friends and emotionally rewarding activities.”

“It’s not helpful to say ‘just don’t do it’ – it doesn’t work,” admits Matthew Hodson. “People have to want to stop or they simply won’t. One of the things that GMFA is aiming to do is to reduce the harms that result from chemsex use, by ensuring that people don’t overdose on G, for example, or giving men information about what to do if one of their friends falls into a coma.”

“Tina, meph and G are harder to manage than alcohol, harder to manage than coke or ecstasy,” adds David. “These are hardcore drugs that gay men have adopted, very problematically, in the larger gay scenes around the world. Be very informed, know your limits, and don’t shy away from chatting with a Chems Advisor once in a while to keep those boundaries in place.”

TRIED TO STOP

55% of the guys we spoke to have tried to stop using chems at one time or another, citing reasons including feeling and looking like crap, feeling depressed, financial concerns, the fear of losing jobs and relationships, and the devastating wake-up call of a friend dying of an overdose.

“I never took any drugs until three years ago, when a friend set up one-off sessions at his house,” admits James, 49 from Coventry. “They can cause problems in keeping an erection. I can see how they can be addictive, and a slippery slope downwards. I’ve seen people at saunas spaced out and very vulnerable and a danger to themselves. I’ve felt unwell and have passed out for a few seconds while taking meow and too many poppers at the same time, and felt my heart racing which can be scary. I can’t always remember what happened and with who, as I’m not always in control. I think if you had a good time you should remember it.” James has tried to give up. “I enjoy sex without them with my longstanding partner,” he explains, “but I feel nervous without them if meeting strangers.”

“I enjoy it but wish I had never started it,” says Alex, 26 from London. “I’m doing it too often, and taking too many risks, and feeling depressed afterwards. But I keep slipping up and going back to it.”

“I felt like I needed to tick it off my list,” says Paul, 43 from Birmingham. “It’s not good! The comedown is worse than I’ve ever experienced. The feeling of dread after it, and the money wasted on it.”

“Its adverse affects make you feel jittery, isolated and paranoid,” adds Jonathan.

“It has a negative impact on the rest of my life,” says JP. “Destructive. It fed my depression.”

“I’m hooked,” admits Chris. “I’ve been doing it very regularly for two years – every weekend for the last a few months. It’s destroying me. I don’t know how to stop. I tried to stop many times, or at least reduce the frequency of partying. But unfortunately I failed. I do it more often than before.”

HOW TO STOP

“As ever, the first step is accepting that we may have a problem – a behaviour pattern that is putting our physical, mental and emotional health at risk, and one that is ultimately unlikely to bring us any lasting happiness,” says Andre Smith. 

“Fortunately there is help for anyone who wants it. Gay men are often able to access drug information and harm reduction services in sexual health settings – be they clinical or community based. Equally, organisations like Antidote have helped and supported countless numbers of gay men to deal with drug and addiction issues.” 

“The centres of chemsex expertise in London, accessible to any gay man regardless of borough of residence, continue to be Antidote and 56 Dean Street,” adds David Stuart. “There is no shame involved in chatting with an advisor; nonetheless both have online information and support. Proud, self-respecting gay men look after their own sexual health and general wellbeing, by checking in with health advisors from time to time. It’s no different checking in with a chems advisor. Outside London, your best bet is to speak with a health advisor in your local sexual health clinic.

“56 Dean Street has over 6,000 gay men through its doors each month. We estimate that over half of these men use chems for sex. Although chemsex support is offered to all of them, only 100 per month ask to chat with a chems advisor. 70% of these men cannot remember the last time they had chem-free sex or need therapy to re-engage with chem-free sex. We are seeing a rise in hep C infections, including among HIV-positive men who do not inject drugs.”

FULL STOP

17% of the men we spoke to have now stopped using chems. “I stopped as I realised it’s the most disillusioned, false and destructive scene to be seduced by,” says Bill, 34 from London. “Unfortunately, for so many LGBT people now, it is the only scene they believe you can find recognition and community.”

“My habit got out of hand,” admits Lee, 26 from London. “It led to a lost job, the breakdown of long-term relationship, and risky sexual practices.”

“I felt the ritual of taking them had become more important than anything else,” says Fred, 42 from London. “And they were destroying my ability to think.”

“A friend died of a G overdose. He was 20,” says Cory, 49 from London.

Some of these guys said how much better and healthier they felt, while others admitted to missing it. 

“I’ve no physical side effects, just a tremendous sense of anger that it took a tragedy to bring me to my senses,” Cory admits.

“At first I was physically ill, and then progressively healthier,” says Lee. “I put effort into real friendships and not using sex to pass the time.”

“At first I was vulnerable and self-absorbed,” says Fred. “But gradually I returned to normality, stability and happiness.”

“The worst part of any habit or addiction is that you don’t realise it is one until you try to overcome it,” Bill adds. “However, if or when you do overcome it, you feel total control and self-belief. This is particularly true for breaking an addiction to a scene so toxic.”  


HOW TO BE A SAFER CHEMSEXER

Your sex life is your own business, and if you want to fuck 100 people a week via sex clubs, sex parties or wherever then that’s your decision and no-one should make you feel bad about it. However with every sexual act comes a risk of picking up or passing on an STI or HIV. So here’s a little guide on how to minimise the risk to your sexual health. 

Condoms: Using condoms while having sex is still one of the best ways to avoid becoming HIV-positive or passing on the virus. And don’t forget the lube. Condoms can break, but using plenty of water-based lube can help prevent this. If you are in a group sex situation then you should use a new condom with every partner.

Partner selection: You won’t be able to know if someone is HIV-negative if you’ve just met them. About 80% of new HIV infections come from having unprotected sex with guys who think they are HIV-negative. If someone has recently been infected then they will not know their status, but their viral load will be very high, making them more likely to pass on HIV without knowing. So asking or assuming someone is negative and then making your decision based on that is not the best way to remain HIV-negative. 

Can I have bareback sex with someone who is HIV-positive?

Gay men who are HIV-positive and are on medication are less likely to pass on HIV. This is because the medication that they are on helps to reduce the amount of HIV in their body. It’s not impossible for them to pass on HIV but it’s very unlikely if they are undetectable. 

HIV-positive? Don’t forget your pills: If you are HIV-positive, on medication and likely to go to chillouts/sex parties then it’s best you get into a habit of bringing your medication with you. Wrap up some pills in cling-film and keep it in your pocket. A quick hook-up can easily turn into a three-night session. This way you decrease the risk of missing your medication – which can cause your viral load to rise making you infectious. 

Pulling out before cumming: Letting him cum inside you is very risky. Your anal canal soaks up the cum very fast. If he has HIV in his cum then the chances of him passing it on to you are extremely high. HIV is also in pre-cum so there is still a risk even if he pulls out.

PEP: If you have unprotected sex with someone who you think is positive, or if you’re not sure of their status, then PEP is available from your local GUM clinic or A&E department. PEP, which is a month-long course of medication, may stop you becoming positive if you start to take it within 72 hours of exposure (the soonner the better) and keep to the medication for the whole course. >> www.gmfa.org.uk/pep.

PrEP: Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a promising new way of preventing HIV infections. PrEP involves HIV-negative men taking a daily dose of one or two of the drugs that are used to treat HIV. Studies suggest that this can prevent infection if the user is exposed to HIV. At present in the UK PrEP was only available to men in a clinical trial with the PROUD study. This study is now over and groups like GMFA are trying to make PrEP available to all gay men who want it on the NHS. >> To keep up-to-date with PrEP, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/prep.

Test for HIV and STIs: Having an STI can make you more vulnerable to HIV infection. All sexually active gay men should test for STIs at least once a year. If you are having lots of sex, and especially if you are having lots of unprotected sex, then you should test more frequently.

It takes roughly ten days for most STIs to show up in a test. 

It takes about four weeks for HIV to show up in a test. 

Dosing: being in control of what you are taking will help you to make better decisions. About one in seven people overdose on G – some pass out and others end up in a state where they have no control over what they are doing. Knowing how to dose correctly can help you stay in control.

Do not share: HIV and hep C can be passed on through needle sharing. Using someone else’s needle will put you at risk of transmitting or getting HIV and/or hep C. 

Use your own lube Most parties will provide condoms and lube. While you wouldn’t use someone elses used condoms, many guys will use the same pot of lube. It’s quite possible for hep C to remain in blood which can be spread though shared use of the same pot of lube. >> www.gmfa.org.uk/condoms-and-lube.


SUPPORT:

To find your nearest GUM clinic, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/clinics.

ChemSex support at 56 Dean Street; for gay men who use drugs for sex. Walk in appointments Tuesday evenings, Thursday afternoons and two Saturday afternoons each month; for details, visit www.chemsexsupport.com

For more info on sex and sexual health, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/sex.


This article was taken from FS #147: CHEMSEX EXPOSED


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