Chemsex means sexual activity, mostly between men, while under the influence of drugs.
People take part in chemsex for different reasons. Some people take part in chemsex to feel less inhibited and to enhance pleasure. Other reasons for taking part in chemsex are associated with feelings of stigma and issues around self-esteem.
There may be individuals who are not men who have sex with men who use drugs as part of their sex lives, but the term chemsex refers to a practice with a specific history and culture.
You can find more information about the history and culture of chemsex on the website of advocate and activist David Stuart:
There are three specific drugs usually involved:
- Methamphetamine is a stimulant. It's also known as crystal meth, crystal, meth, tina and crank.
- Mephedrone is a stimulant too. It's know as meph, drone or meow meow.
- GHB and GBL are sedatives. Their full names are gammahydroxybutyrate and gammabutyrolactone, and they're also known as G, gina, geebs and liquid ecstasy.
The impact of chemsex can be different for different people. For some the risks are smaller, but for other people they can be more harmful. There are ways to keep yourself safe, but there are some risks involved:
It can affect your physical and mental health
Chemsex can have a negative impact on your physical health, including your heart and brain. It can also contribute to anxiety and depression.
Sometimes people inject crystal meth and mephedrone. With injection there is an increased risk of infections and blood borne viruses like HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B.
You can also become dependent on chemsex drugs. If you have a dependency and you stop taking drugs, you’ll experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
It can lead to unsafe sex
If you’re under the influence of drugs you might not use a condom, which can put you at risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
People who are using certain drugs will often have rougher sex than usual, which can cause bleeding.
It can lead to issues around consent
In any situation where drugs or alcohol are present, it is easy for people to lose the capacity to consent. If someone is asleep, unconscious or so ‘out of it’ they cannot decide for themselves, then they cannot consent.
Consent is not permanent and can be withdrawn at any time. Consent is not just about the law, it is about having positive sexual experiences that all people involved want.
It can affect your social, sex and work life
Chemsex can have an impact on your everyday life. Some people find that it can have a negative effect on their friendships and work life. People who engage in chemsex regularly sometimes find it hard to enjoy sex without chemsex drugs.
It is important you feel safe, and in control of what drugs you take, and the sex you have.
The LGBT foundation has some tips for reducing the risks if you’re involved with chemsex. Some of the main ones include:
- Use condoms and lube, and other barrier protection like dental dams
- Set ground rules while you’re sober about what you do and don’t want
- Don’t share needles or items for snorting eg. straws and notes
- Take PrEP/PEP to protect against HIV
- Get tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
You should also avoid mixing drugs with alcohol or any other drugs, and try to use with other people that you trust.
It’s important to understand and learn about the drugs you are taking. It is possible to become dependent on them and to overdose. GHB/GBL can also cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Chemsex advice for professionals
If you want advice and guidance around supporting someone with a substance misuse problem, we’re here to help. We’ve put together advice for professionals on the topic of chemsex and how to refer someone to our services.
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