GMFA Chemsex 2020 - High and Housebound? Chemsex has become an undeniable presence in the gay community, if only a comparatively small one, and it looks like it’s here to stay. There are many reasons gay and bisexual men partake in chemsex scene and in varying degrees of intensity, from casual fun, to a need to connect and satisfy urges. We surveyed 133 people about their chemsex use. 37% of respondents said they had chemsex within the last month, 32% in the last three months, 9% in the last six months, 3% in the last year and 19% over a year ago. The most popular drugs used were G (78%), crystal meth (72%), cocaine (57%), and mephedrone (54%). What leads people to try chemsex and how can it impact your life? GETTING INTO CHEMSEX How do you get into chemsex and what is the first time like? A respondent to our survey who wishes to remain completely anonymous told us: “I was drunk coming home from the bars. I noticed some guys walking around their apartment naked. They saw me through my apartment window and invited me to go inside. Once inside, they offered me something to take the edge off my drunkenness. I smoked tina (crystal meth) and I liked the rush of it. Then I got undressed and had sex with them.” “I read about the enormous sex drive people get on crystal meth,” explains Tom, 42. “I wanted to try it, so I did. My first time was alone. It was exciting and my sex drive increased a lot. I wanked the whole night until the next morning.” Nathan, 34, tells us about his introduction to chemsex: “My first time was at a club called Trough. My boyfriend persuaded me to go and to take MDMA for the first time. We'd not long opened our relationship and he'd started to get involved in the fisting scene and having chemsex. It was pretty intense. I took a bit too much, so I was overwhelmed for a while but when I got over the initial rush and I ended up having incredible sex with a really hot guy who ended up coming home with both of us. It was amazing.” My first time was smoking weed and then having sex and not intentionally mixing the two,” says Stephen, 29. “I have also had sex on mephedrone and cocaine, It’s usually not planned in a chemsex scenario but it occasionally has been. Most of this has been with my ex-partner. Sometimes I have intentionally used drugs before sex (usually weed, sometimes cocaine or meph), to make anal sex easier.” John, 32, explains how he got into it: “I grew up being anti-drugs. I went to chemsex parties but didn’t use. During my second year at uni, I decided I wanted to try drugs. I met a guy on Gaydar and went to his place and tried cocaine and two other drugs (maybe MDMA and meph) and had sex. The encounter was very short though. After I tested HIV-positive was when I started going to chemsex parties and using drugs. I enjoyed all of my first experiences; I think.” “Be very sure it’s what you want and that nobody’s pressuring you into something you’d rather not do,” advises Monty Moncrieff, the Chief Executive of charity London Friend. “It’s absolutely fine to say no if you’re unsure or if it’s just not for you. It might feel like everyone’s at it, but in reality, only around one in six gay men have ever taken a chemsex drug, so you’re in the majority if you decide not to. “If it is for you, then make sure you know as much as you can about the drugs, what effect they’re going to have, and about correct dosing before you start. This is especially important for G, as it’s such a tiny dose, and you risk passing out or dying if you get it wrong. “The guys we work with at London Friend who manage their chemsex use best are those who put boundaries in place and stick to them. They plan ahead, know who they are going to play with, agree about things like condom use or PrEP in advance. They have access to plenty of new equipment for taking drugs and don’t share. They think about how long a session will last, set limits around how much they’ll use during a session, and build in enough recovery time. “Importantly, keep a check on how chems are impacting on other areas of your life. Are you missing work? Arguing with friends and family? Having financial trouble? Is your mental health and wellbeing suffering? If it’s a yes to any of these kinds of questions it might be time to rethink what you’re doing. We advise getting some support, talking to a professional, as soon as possible so you can start to make changes before it gets really out of hand. We see so many people who have felt their chems use is manageable and then see it spiral out of control. This happens much more often with chemsex drugs than with drugs like ecstasy which people might have previously used for clubbing.” THE SEX IN CHEMSEX What sort of sex are people who have chemsex having? Blow jobs – 84% Fucking (as a bottom) - 78% Rimming - 76% One on one sex – 75% Threesomes - 69% Fucking (as a top) - 68% Using sex toys - 68% Group sex - 60% Watersports - 50% Fisting - 41% Double penetration - 38% S&M – 38% Other fetishes – 24% People also responded to say that cam shows and roleplay often play a big part in their chemsex life. What do these results tell us? Ian Howley, Chief Executive of LGBT HERO, the parent organisation of GMFA said, “It’s difficult to know whether these would be different from people’s normal sexual practices if they have the chance to partake in them. However, we’ve known for a long time that when people drink alcohol their inhibitions decrease, and they are more likely to have riskier sex. I would imagine that those who partake in chemsex follow a similar journey. So, if you are taking part in chemsex, you’re probably going to engage in activities you wouldn’t have before. The thing to do is ask yourself if this is really what you want? We know that when most sober up there tends to be guilt involved with many asking themselves, “What did I do last night?”. It’s important in these situations that you understand that yes, the drugs/alcohol decreased your inhibitions, but is it something you enjoyed? The challenge is to see if you can enjoy these without the guilt the next morning. Everyone has the right to enjoy the best sex with the least amount of risk. Learning how to decrease the risks will eradicate the unnecessary guilt.” SEXUAL HEALTH AND CHEMSEX If you’re having chemsex, what STIs are you most at risk from? How can you treat them? And how can you prevent them? 65% of respondents to our survey told us they have previously tested positive for an STI. 24 % said they tested positive for gonorrhoea and 24% for syphilis, while 20% said they had chlamydia and 6% hepatitis C. Nathan, 34 told us: “I think I had symptoms once but usually if I catch gonorrhoea or chlamydia, I don't know until I get the test results. Sometimes I've been notified by partners but sometimes it just comes up on a regular test. I notify anyone I can who I think might have been exposed.” “I was told by someone else at the same group I'd been to that they had something, and I should go get tested,” says David, 26. Andrew 59, explains, “There was no particular incident. I had a period of not feeling well. My partner had hepatitis C, so I went to get tested and found I had it. I do not and never have injected drugs, but I had acquired it during sex that included fisting.” HIV is also a very prominent issue to be aware of while having chemsex, especially if you’re having bareback sex. 14% of respondents told us they were diagnosed with HIV as a result of having chemsex. 38% said they were already living with HIV. Matt, 26, told us, “While I was taking drugs to have a sex, I decided to go to a clinic and get PrEP, When I got tested before receiving PrEP my test result came back positive. I was too late.” Jeff, 45, was already living with HIV when he started having chemsex. “I was already HIV-positive when I started having chemsex. In that five-year period of partying hard I had lots of STIs, but hardly ever got tested.” We asked what prevention methods you are using. 43% said they tested regularly: at least every three to six months. 37% said that they are HIV-undetectable, so they cannot pass on HIV. 35% said they take PrEP, 16% use condoms, 6% don’t have penetrative sex and 16% said they don’t use any prevention methods at all. Ian Howley of LGBT HERO said, “No matter what sexual activity you take part in, it only takes one time for you to become infected with HIV or STI. We understand that lots of sex is not planned but there are of avoiding HIV and STIs if you are engaging in chemsex. First, use condoms and plenty of lube and change condoms with every new partner. Many STIs are transmitted through oral sex so using condoms isn’t a 100% safe method. If you are not using condoms and not living with HIV then PrEP is the best way to prevent HIV, though it won’t prevent STIs. If you have engaged in risky sex without being on PrEP or using condoms, PEP is available. It’s a dose of HIV medication that can stop you from becoming HIV-positive if taken within 72 hours. The sooner you get on PEP, the higher the chances of it working. “For all who engage in chemsex and group sex on a regular basis you should probably test for HIV and STIs every other month. Contact your GUM clinic if you are showing any symptoms and refrain from sexual activity. “Overall, it’s up to you to find the best way to prevent HIV and STIs, but knowledge is key so make sure you and those who you engage with know what all the options are.” CHEMSEX DURING LOCKDOWN During the Coronavirus crisis it’s important for your safety and the safety of others that we respect the lockdown, stay home and don’t hook-up. However, we understand that sometimes it’s not as simple as that, particularly for those in the throes of chems use. Some people are also misinformed about the science behind COVID-19. The results from our survey told us that: 48% have actually stopped using chems and having chemsex, 17% are still having chemsex with their live-in partner, 15% are still using chems but not having sex and 12% who are still hooking up with people to have chemsex. Rory, 30, says: “I feel the risk of catching the virus is there if I go to the shops or go out anyway. I am only with a regular guy, not hooking up with anyone I don’t know, and we are generally maintaining social distancing with other people.” It’s weird having spent so many years empowering gay and bi men to feel good about themselves and the sex they choose to have to now be saying don’t do it,” Monty from London Friend tells us, “but this is the reality we’re in just now. It’s important we limit contact with people we don’t live with, so the simple advice is don’t hook up – stay home and have a wank.” “It’s easier said than done though, I know. Try to remember that we’re all in the same boat, and that this is just a temporary restriction. It will end, and we will be able to hook-up and have sex again. There’s a lot of activities happening to engage with instead, from online theatre screenings, to your favourite drag queens doing online shows, so try to find other activities, and plan ahead for the times you might be more tempted to use. “Some suggestions include having video dates and enjoying a bit of virtual sexy time. If this is your thing, great, but just like not being pressurised into sex, you can say no if you’re uncomfortable with this. If you do use chems for this take even more care with dosing. If you passed out or something went wrong, there’s nobody there to help you.” Ian Howley said, “I fully agree with Monty. We are all in the same boat and need to do our bit. The sooner this is over the sooner we can get back to normality. However, we know from history that shaming those who partake in sexual activities during a crisis (HIV and AIDS) is not helpful. It pushes people further underground and leads to self-esteem and self-worth issues. So yes, let’s all collectively talk about this as a community but if you know someone is hooking up do not personally shame them. We do not know why they are continuing to engage in sexual activity, and you might be doing more damage in the long run. The messages should be about suggesting alternatives and peer-led solutions. For instance, Jamie HP Events provides an online naked cam session for gay and bi men. Although this is not a direct replacement for the real thing, it’s innovations like this that can help many men through this.” LIFE AFTER CHEMSEX What happens when you decide to stop or cut back on having chemsex? Why do people decide to stop and is it difficult to? "It got too much for me,” says Patrick. “It became more-ish. I wanted to do it too much and it got away from me and my life. I also had health concerns, especially with anxiety.” Sometimes things come to a halt in an extreme way, as told to us by Tom, 42. “My house was raided by the police, I lost my driver’s licence and got sentenced to a very high fine. I realised that I was on the verge of losing my job and my friends.” Sometimes stopping altogether can be difficult and maybe not something you want to give up completely but reducing how much you have chemsex can lead to a more stable or healthy day-to-day life. “I have significantly reduced the frequency of chemsex,” John, 32, tell us. “This was in response to seeing the negative effects drugs had on my partner and other people, and realising that it was having a negative effect on my work and my relationship with my family. I know I still enjoy it, but rather than it being every week, it now only happens when I have time to recover without it impacting on other commitments.” Rory, 30, says: “I stopped taking G because a friend died taking it and it instantly lost any appeal for me after that. I still use other chems though.” “If you’ve decided to give up it can be a big change,” says Monty Moncrieff of London Friend. “Most of your weekends might have involved chems so you’ll need to find other things to do. Planning ahead is key, knowing what you’ll be doing, and with strategies for what you’ll do in case you are tempted to use. Having goals that you work to incrementally can help – taking things a day, a week, a month at a time. Know which of your friends or family will be there to genuinely support you if you reach out to them – and know which ones might try to talk you into “just this weekend” so you avoid them. “It helps to have some professional support, someone objective who’s helped you make your plans, and knowing you’ve got someone to check in with. Our new Sunday Session workshops are designed to help with the move on, and we encourage people to explore developing relationships with people that aren’t based on chems. Experience the “real chemistry” of social, leisure and sexual relationships without drugs. “We know that for many people they may rarely, if ever, be having sex without chems, so sober sex can be frightening. It’s fine to feel nervous, and you may even find you get an entirely different kind of buzz about getting to know someone intimately rather than using and jumping into bed with them. So many of the men we work with tell us they really want relationships and more emotional connection than just sex, but don’t feel it’s ever available. If we could just get them all to open up about what they really want and start exploring together we could see a real shift in how we interact as gay men.” CONSENT Unfortunately, issues around consent often occur when it comes to chemsex and chill outs. From being drugged against their will, to sexual assault and rape, many of you have experienced the darker side of chemsex. 41% of you said that something happened to you while having chemsex that you didn't want to happen. Jeff, 45, said, “I was injected with drugs with used syringes. I was also sexually assaulted several times while unconscious.” “On several occasions I have been fucked by guys even when we had agreed that I would only top or I said I didn’t want to bottom,” says Rory, 30 “and they kept fucking me even though I repeatedly told them to stop.” Dal, 46, told us: “I have been raped multiple times on multiple occasions.” Someone who wished to remain completely anonymous divulged: “I was knocked out on G and filmed being fucked against my own will.” 24% of respondents said they had seen something happen to someone else without their consent at a party or chill out. “I saw someone given a bit more G and he passed out,” says Tom, 42, “His partner dosed him by purpose with too much G.” An anonymous respondent said: “I have seen things happen with younger gays that want to hang out. They go through the ritual of being broken in.” 7% of respondents admitted they had done something to someone else while having chemsex without the person’s consent. Someone calling himself ‘Orange’ admits, “You get high, everyone is high. Stuff happens. You realise after, sometimes a week after the comedown, that that wasn't right.” An anonymous person told us: “I was forced to have sex with other people by the other masters at a chemsex party.” Monty Moncrieff of London Friend has advice surrounding consent: “Dealing with something like this can be a very sensitive issue, but there’s lots of support available, whether you decide to formally report it to the police or not. We know some people may be confused about consent too, and what this means in a setting which is intended to be sexual, but if something has happened that you did not agree to, or whilst you were unconscious, then in the eyes of the law consent is very clear. “People may be afraid of reporting it to the police, because of drugs being involved. We’ve worked with the Police who have been very sensitive to this and are usually focused mainly on the more serious sexual assault issue, but as drugs are illegal there are times they might have to investigate. This is more likely if there is an issue regarding the supply of drugs, which is more serious than possession. You won’t be arrested for simply having used drugs for sex. “The police can facilitate access to specialist support through sexual assault referral centres, like The Havens in London. They have also been working to better understand the issues around chemsex so they can support those affected more appropriately. They can arrange forensic tests like swabs if it is early enough after the incident and coordinate further emotional support. LGBT organisations like Galop have a specialist sexual violence team and can also help you decide whether you wish to report it to the Police or not. They can also report the facts of the case anonymously if you wish it to be recorded, but not press charges. The sad reality is that without forensic evidence it can be difficult to prove guilt, but you can still access support to help you deal with it, including counselling from LGBT or specialist sexual violence services.” “I encourage men who are going to chemsex parties to look out for others too. If someone looks like they are going under on G or disorientated from their drugs, check that they are safe, and stop anybody else trying to continue to have sex with them.” Ian Howley concludes, “The last thing I’ll say on chemsex in the modern world is that we now have a better understanding of why people take part in it and what support they may need. There are many men who take part in this and are absolutely fine, healthy and happy. There are many who get into it for all without having safeguards in place to deal with the long-term effects of the drugs. If you’re going to take part in chemsex the best way to do it is safely. Know the drugs involved, how to practice them as safely as you can, what to do if you need support, and pick a safer sex strategy that helps prevent HIV and STIs as much as possible. A realistic strategy is the best strategy. SUPPORT If you'd like support with your chems use, then London Friend's Antidote service is still up and running. Email [email protected]. Drop-ins are running online on Thursdays from 6 - 8pm, for which you must pre-register. Galop is still offering support to people experiencing domestic violence and abuse. You can call them on 0800 999 5428 Monday to Friday 10:00am - 5:00pm, and Wednesday to Thursday 10:00am - 8:00pm. Switchboard's LGBTQ+ helpline is still operating. Whatever you want to talk about, they're their to listen: 0300 330 063010:00-22:00 every day. Or webchat here. Email [email protected].