Chasing sexual pleasure – ‘chemsex’ and its risks

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More on ‘chemsex’ and its risks from a  public health warning put out by European experts. The practice of injecting stimulants (mostly novel psychoactive substances in the cathinone group) prior to sex parties where high risk behaviour takes place is causing concern for Europe’s drug agency. Keeping track of these ‘legal highs’ is tough. Says the Guardian on the subject:

The experts say the EU’s early warning system is coming under increasing pressure from the volume and variety of new drugs appearing on the market. Almost 250 substances were detected in the last four years.

I wrote about this just three weeks back following a report on the subject. Here are some of the concerns:

These drugs are widely known to facilitate pleasure or euphoria but are also associated with a range of harms. Particular concern has been raised regarding the role of crystal meth, GHB/GBL and mephedrone in sexual HIV or STI transmission risk behaviour. The link between drug use and risk taking behaviour is complex, but there is a clear association between the two. These drugs can facilitate long sexual sessions with multiple partners and the likelihood of STI transmission may be increased due to rectal trauma or penile abrasions. There are also harms associated with drug overdose, especially in relation to GHB/GBL, which is typically administered in small, carefully timed doses. Within the last two years there have been a number of drug related casualties among gay men…

London Friend, a LGBT health charity believe most often men are looking for loving and meaningful relationships and want to encourage them to seek healthier ways of doing this. Quoted in The Information Daily their CEO Monty Moncrieff says:

“At London Friend we’re interested in challenging this narrative, encouraging debate on the perceived norms on the gay scene. If so many men are telling us the same thing, maybe nobody is truly getting out of chemsex what they say they’re really looking for?”

The Huffington Post covers the subject also and provides some worrying statistics:

In London, data from Antidote, a specialist drug clinic targeting services at the gay community, showed 75% of clients using mephedrone were doing so solely to facilitate sex, with 80% injecting it. Of these users, 75% reported being HIV positive and 70% reported sharing needles.

This reminds me of the bad old days when HIV was spreading and although we had no test for it back then, Hep C was also on the rise alarmingly. This feels like such a horrid development and, although probably still affecting a small number of men relatively, it’s not good. I would imagine what’s different this time is the demographic.

What’s of interest is the answer to the question: Why is this happening now? Why do gay men have a higher incidence of addiction and why are some of them risking so much? As I wrote last time, one piece of research has suggestions:

In a study of 389 gay, lesbian and bisexual men and women it was found that problematic alcohol and substance use were positively related to shame and internalised heterosexism. This has been found before, and even if it is relevant in this context, it won’t be the only issue. However if stigmatisation, shaming and marginalisation of LGBT groups are at least in part related to substance use and related harms then part of the solution will lie in addressing them.

Are treatment services generally geared up to help clients with problem or dependent use? Probably not. Meantime health information for gay men in Scotland can be found at Gay Men’s Health. Other services include ROAM in Edinburgh and for the UK, GMFA or London Friend.

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