What is Chemsex?
Chemsex describes sex that occurs under the influence of drugs to intensify feelings of pleasure, reduce inhibitions and increase stamina. While the term is often associated with gay or bisexual men, it has recently become an umbrella term for engaging in sexual activity whilst using drugs.
It must be noted that this doesn’t include substance use that leads to sex, but rather drugs that are taken to enhance a sexual experience.
Chemsex has become increasingly popular in the last ten years with the surge in popularity of certain drugs as well as hook-up apps like Grindr and Tinder. There are various risks involved with Chemsex, one of which is the possibility of developing an addiction to any of the substances used during the process. Each drug carries with it the risk of overdose, psychosis and even death.
Popular Chemsex Drugs
In the UK, the most popular Chemsex drugs include a combination of stimulants and sedatives such as GHB, mephedrone and methamphetamine.
GHB also referred to as "G", is a Class C sedative that has an anaesthetising effect that reduces the user’s inhibitions. Sedatives are often extremely dangerous when mixed with depressants, including alcohol.
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain, but it can also be synthesised and used to treat conditions such as narcolepsy and fibromyalgia. GHB can only be obtained legally with a prescription, and the dosage must be monitored by a medical professional. GHB can be found as an oily liquid or powder and becomes clear and colourless when dissolved. It’s for this reason that it has been nicknamed the ‘date rape’ drug, as many unsuspecting victims are unable to identify GHB in their drinks. Much like Benzodiazepines which are also sedatives, GHB can become addictive and can cause many unpleasant side effects.
Side effects of GHB
Side effects of GHB abuse depend on how much a person takes, and whether it has been mixed with any other substances. The immediate side-effects of GHB include:
- Low blood pressure
- Slurred speech
- Low body temperature
- Increased sex drive
- Blacking out
- Loss of muscle control
Higher doses of GHB use can result in symptoms such as:
- Coma (if combined with alcohol)
Excessive GHB use can also lead to several long-term health problems, more so when regularly mixed with alcohol. Many of the studies carried out on GHB have found that continuous use can cause memory deficiencies, respiration depression, high blood pressure, dependence and fatal overdose.
Methamphetamine, or meth, is a stimulant regularly used during Chemsex. Prescribed in low doses to help with disorders such as ADHD, meth’s popularity as an illicit drug has grown increasingly popular, especially amongst those who participate in Chemsex. Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected or taken in pill form and the intensity of the high sometimes depends on the method of use. It increases awareness as well as intense feelings of arousal, pleasure and euphoria. However, the feeling is extremely short-lived, leaving users craving more of it to prolong the high, ultimately resulting in a far more intense ‘crash’.
Side effects of methamphetamine
Once a methamphetamine high has worn off, users will experience a crash along with numerous unpleasant symptoms, including:
- Loss of appetite
- Raised body temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Insomnia or disturbed sleep
- Erratic or violent behaviour
- Panic and psychosis
- Convulsions, seizures and death from high doses
Long-term meth use can cause irreversible harm such as liver, kidney and lung damage as well as damage to blood vessels in the brain that can lead to strokes. Continuous meth use can also cause irregular heart function that may cause cardiovascular collapse or death.
Mephedrone, also known as meow meow or M-CAT, is a stimulant that produces similar effects to ecstasy and speed. It is most commonly found as crystallised granules or a yellowish powder and can be snorted or wrapped in paper and swallowed. Mephedrone is used during Chemsex because of its ability to make users feel overly affectionate, content and euphoric.
Side effects of mephedrone
Like most stimulants, mephedrone’s pleasurable effects wear off relatively quickly, lasting up to an hour before users begin experiencing adverse reactions as a result of extensive use. Some of the most common side effects include:
- Excessive sweating – Mephedrone’s effects can overload regular body function, causing excessive sweating.
- Dehydration – Dehydration is a result of mephedrone’s effects, which causes fluids to rapidly deplete. Serious dehydration can lead to organ damage if not resolved.
- Headaches – While some headaches can be mild, others can be extremely painful and can also occur as a result of dehydration.
- Seizures – Heavy mephedrone use can cause seizures due to the overstimulating effects on the body. This is one of the most dangerous side effects because seizures can occur at any time and there may not always be help on hand.
Risks and long-term consequences of Chemsex
Alongside the direct effects of Chemsex drugs, there are further risks associated with the behaviours they expose. Lowering inhibitions usually gives way to risky behaviours. This could be engaging in sex with multiple partners or forgetting to use protection to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Someone with HIV could forget to take their pre-exposure prophylaxis medication, which prevents them from passing on HIV and infecting others.
If someone is engaging in Chemsex, they may choose to inject drugs as a way of achieving a more intense hit. Needle sharing and contamination is a huge risk with drug-taking in any environment and increases the risk of bloodborne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.
Being under the influence of drugs can result in an inability to gauge whether appropriate force is being used during sex. This could lead to injury and once again increase the risk of STIs and other diseases.
Treatment for Chemsex Addiction
There continues to be a stigma attached to Chemsex and homosexuality, which can sometimes prevent people from coming forward and asking for Chemsex addiction help, and as Chemsex addiction progresses, risky behaviour increases and so does the level of drug use. After a while, the body develops a tolerance to the drug, meaning people will need to take more to achieve the same high as their first time.
Because of the risks involved with Chemsex, such as the transmission of HIV and other bloodborne diseases, it is recommended that individuals visit a specialist clinic for blood tests and screenings to check for any infections and prescribe the correct medication where necessary.
Residential rehab is considered an effective treatment for Chemsex addiction. Most rehab clinics treat process addictions like sex addiction, as well as drug addictions and offer a medically supervised detoxification if required. This is often paired with a therapy programme designed to help clients explore any underlying issues that may have contributed to their Chemsex addiction.
Can I become addicted to Chemsex?
Addiction is a disease that targets the brain’s reward system and is the psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a substance or activity, even though it is causing psychological and physical harm. While separately, sex and drugs can both be addictive, Chemsex addiction occurs when a person becomes addicted to the feeling of enhanced sexual pleasure as a result of taking a certain drug or a combination of drugs. Once the brain becomes accustomed to this level of pleasure, the probability of becoming addicted to Chemsex is high.
What are the signs of Chemsex addiction?
As is the case with most process and substance addictions, certain signs may indicate that a person has developed a Chemsex addiction. Engaging in Chemsex often, obsessing about Chemsex and demonstrating riskier behaviours each time can signal addictive behaviour and if this is the case, treatment may be required.
What risks are involved with Chemsex?
As well as the risk of side effects from drugs like mephedrone, methamphetamine and GHB which are often taken during Chemsex sessions, many other serious risks can arise as a result of lowered inhibitions whilst under the influence. For example, Injecting drugs and sharing used needles can give way to many diseases and infections.
Compromised judgement can also lead to violence and injury which would not have occurred if the individual had not been under the influence of illicit drugs.
Why do people engage in Chemsex?
For many people, Chemsex often starts as a bit of fun and a way of experimenting with drugs and sexuality. For those in the LGBTQ community, Chemsex is sometimes described as a form of expression and freedom in an otherwise prejudiced world and in many cases, the pleasure of Chemsex far outweighs the risks involved.