Drug-fueled sex is being blamed for the increase in HIV rates among British men and officials in the United Kingdom are zeroing in on the practice, known as chemsex in their new drug-fighting strategy.
What is chemsex?
Chemsex is the practice of snorting or swallowing a cocktail of three drugs before having sex: Mephedrone (often called miaow miaow), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and crystal methamphetamine. The three together make the users feel euphoric and uninhibited, leading to a more pleasurable sexual experience, according to The Express.
Men in the gay community are the most likely to participate in chemsex, according to a recent editorial published in the British Medical Journal, and some because they need it to deal with their own negative feelings about their sexuality.
“I have never really been able to have sober gay sex,” one man wrote in a 2014 study of 15,000 gay and bisexual men in England.
“If you get rejected and you are on mephedrone it doesn’t really matter,” another man said. “The club is full of other people. It has kind of, like, separated you from the reality of that sting.”
It’s not a new practice, either: Researchers have studied chemsex for 30 years and, though it’s getting attention, one researcher says it’s not as widespread as the British government’s makes it seem.
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“The vast majority of gay men do not combine methamphetamine-like drugs with sex and many men actively discourage the practice,” Ron Stall, co-director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for LGBT Health Research, told The Huffington Post in 2015.
But, one survey of over 1,000 gay men in London found that one-fifth admitted to participating in chemsex within the past five years and one-tenth said they’d had it within the past four weeks.
Why chemsex is dangerous
It’s destructive no matter the number of men who do it.
“The difficulty with chemsex is that there is a very fine line between having a great time and things going wrong,” said Rob, a man profiled in a 2016 BuzzFeed report on chemsex. It’s easy to overdose because the drugs come from unknown sources — and some allow their partners to inject them.
“I’ve seen guys that have been awake for five days, and the end of their fingers have gone blue because they’ve lost all circulation to their extremities, but they’re still trying to have sex,” added Glenn, another man interviewed for the story.
“I’ve seen guys with scars all over their shoulders because they were on crystal meth and they were convinced they had something under their skin; I’ve seen people with huge burns on their face where they’ve dropped a [crystal meth] pipe on their face,” he added.
Reports of chemsex violence to police are rare because of fear and opponents of the British’s government’s proposed crackdown say it’ll make the stigma worse.
"It won't protect young people and communities because it is the same failed old recipe of criminalization and under-funding that has led to record numbers of vulnerable people dying,” Martin Powell, head of campaigns at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, told The Express.