The Realities Of Chemsex
February 24 16 min read
It’s 7pm on a Sunday evening in a spacious, converted North London warehouse. Sofas sprawl the sparsely-carpeted floor. Some covered with tangled bodies laughing, kissing, chatting and fucking to the steady throb of ambient techno. Tiny vials of clear liquid and near-empty packages of powder scatter the tables.
Most – not all - attendees of this small, communal party identify as queer in some capacity. Knowingly or not, they’re all part of the notorious London chemsex scene.
Much has been written about chemsex, especially over the last few years. Yet fucking on drugs isn’t a new phenomenon – straight people have been doing it for centuries. But chemsex is uniquely queer. It’s marked by a calculated triumvirate of drugs: GBL, a euphoria-inducing liquid sedative which converts into GHB in the body; mephedrone, a cheap stimulant which boosts stamina; and crystal meth, another stimulant which makes users alert and aroused.
Chemsex made international headlines in 2016, when Stephen Port was found guilty of drugging, murdering and dumping the bodies of four gay men in London. He also spiked and assaulted several more, whom he had solicited through Grindr. His drug of choice was GBL, which he discovered from the London chemsex scene. The story set the tone for the scene's press coverage at large: gruesome, sensationalist stories of murder and debauchery. Often written by straight journalists with little understanding of the situation.
The underlying story is one of institutional homophobia. Metropolitan Police failed to thoroughly investigate the deaths of these men largely because they were gay. The stereotype of promiscuity likely stems from the criminalization of same-sex activities, which forced (and still does in some countries) men to seek sex by cruising or cottaging. But this context is often ignored, or weaponised – so when gay men are implicated in sex crimes, it’s all too easy for officers to turn a blind eye.
But these chemsex parties or 'chillouts', as they're often called, aren’t exactly the balls-to-the-wall orgies they’re perceived to be. The media routinely portrays queer communities as hedonistic and irresponsible. Whilst it's true, hedonism lends itself well to queer nightlife, there’s more to consider.
Marginalised communities are more likely to suffer drug addiction for various reasons: institutional homophobia, family abandonment and ignorance of the unique challenges we face. All exemplified by the Met’s failure to hold Port accountable. This shouldn’t be forgotten, nor should the alarming wave of chemsex-related deaths in gay scenes worldwide. But does that mean everyone at the party is a damaged addict?
In a word: No. Some only dabble in chemsex and refrain from taking too many drugs. Like many, they're seeking one last weekend buzz before the grind resumes. Yet they’re rarely mentioned in the media. Of course, stigma makes it difficult to have nuanced conversations around sex and sexuality. But we need to start because there is an obvious appeal to chemsex, done carefully, and separate from a wider pattern of substance abuse.
Instead of misinformed, biased reportage of chemsex, turn to excellent gay reporters seeking to document the scale of the problem. As well as fighting for victim justice and ensuring anyone looking to try chemsex has a clear understanding of the risks involved.
With all that being said, chemsex is like fucking on drugs more generally. The highs can be amazing, but regular use will take away the fun and probably flag up unhealthy patterns. That’s why it’s best to seek chemsex support, handily outlined by the LGBT Foundation:
· Always use condoms and lube
· Set clear ground rules when sober
· Know your boundaries
· Be informed on the drugs you’re using
· Take preventative medication like PrEP whenever available
· Never share needles.
In other words, approach chemsex like you’ve got Regina George’s ‘cool mum’ lingering over your shoulder – have fun, buckle up, and for god’s sake, do it in the house!