Men using specific drugs to have sex with other men is on the rise, and there is evidence it’s taking a toll on the gay community
What happens at a chemsex party?
Multiple men get together and take drugs before having sex, usually with multiple partners, and sometimes over a long period of time. The drugs make it dififcult to orgasm but make users very aroused, and can also enable users to stay awake for days at a time.
Alex Klineberg, a journalist who has attended chemsex parties and has written about the phenomenon, told the Huffington Post:
It starts with a bunch of guys in their underwear getting high, and as they get more and more high, they lose their inhibitions. You can find yourself having multiple partners and going for a long period of time… It can last for 24 hours, three days, without people sleeping, new people showing up at three in the morning. It’s very intense, very hedonistic. This is more than a bit of drug use at the weekend.
What is the association with HIV?
Part of the confusion around unprotected chemsex comes from the fact that some chemsex parties are held by groups of HIV positive men who decide beforehand to forgo protection as they can’t reinfect one another. (It’s worth noting that this is still irresponsible – they could still carry and transmit other sexually transmitted diseases.) This doesn’t mean, however, that chemsex is necessarily resulting in a wave of new HIV infections, or even that all chemsex parties involve unprotected sex.
Sex, drugs and research: review probes the world of ‘chemsex’
‘Chemsex’ or ‘party and play’, the practice of sexualised drug use by men who have sex with men. It is a phenomenon raising concerns among health professionals about the associated transmission of sexually transmissible infection (STI). As well as the risks and social problems involved with drug use.
The subculture among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM), came to light in a graphic documentary that screened in Australia in 2016 probing the dark side of London’s chemsex scene. The practice has been growing in Australia in the past few years.
Yet academic research into the area and its risks to health has been sparse. Interventions to the problems associated with chemsex even sparser. Monash University researcher focused international scientific attention on the issue. In a bid to look at the practice in a reasoned and evidence-based way, and to identify solutions.
Associate Professor Jason Ong from the Central Clinical School at Monash University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Together with Associate Professor Adam Bourne from the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Sexuality (ARCSHS) and Dr Mark Pakianathan from St Georges University (London). They collated a number of studies into chemsex and healthcare approaches to it. It is available in a special-issue edition of the CSIRO-published journal Sexual Health.
Phisical, psychological and social factors
The multidisciplinary edition draws together material from researchers in several countries. This issue range from the physical, psychological and social factors that draw GBMSM to the practice. Looking at the effects of particular drugs used, case studies, and public health responses to treatment and peer support.
A triad of drugs is commonly used at chemsex gatherings. GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), ice (crystal methamphetamine) and ketamine, sometimes in combinations of drugs. They increase confidence in social settings, enable more intense sexual sessions, greater longevity of sex… And, with it, the potential for a higher number of sexual partners and likelihood for condomless sex, the study says.
“At an individual level it increases libido,” Professor Fairley said. “It tends to increase the behaviour that puts people at risk of sexually transmitted infections. It increases the number of partners people have, and the increased duration of sex that they have. The sexual act will go on longer and the duration with one person goes on longer, too. That’s consistent with findings that show this is a risk factor for most STIs,” he said.
“One big driver might be this group sex phenomenon that chemsex is creating. Being in a room with 10 different people you get a much more rapid change of partners than if you met 10 different people individually.”
While some GBMSM men are taking biomedical interventions to prevent HIV, they were still in danger of developing STIs including syphilis, hepatitis A, gonorrhea and the chlamydial disease lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV), and also blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis C through needle-sharing, Professor Fairley said.
“There are some men whose drug use can become problematic and lead to significant social and medical challenge. This is where we must be equipped and ready to stand in the gap to provide high-quality and evidence-based services. The best way to help those who seek to reduce or stop their drug use”
“We can’t simply demonise chemsex and assume all users are ‘bad’ and must stop using drugs immediately.”
Please click on THIS LINK to read more on this topic