Vitality

Let's Talk About Chemsex: Drug-Fueled Sex Marathons Are A Lethal Combination

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A new editorial report hopes to bring attention to the dangers of having risky sex while high on drugs. Staci Flick CC BY 2.0

It’s time we start talking about chemsex, an increasingly popular trend that involves taking illegal drugs in an effort to enhance a sexual experience. According to a recent report, this behavior creates the ideal conditions for a number of serious health risks, and many health professionals are inadequately prepared to deal with these patients.

“Chemsex” is a term used to describe intentionally having sex while under the influence of psychoactive “party” drugs, such as mephedrone, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), and crystal meth, IFLScience reported. Users describe being able to sustain their arousal for longer, increased confidence during sex, and instant feelings of connectedness with new partners. Unfortunately, while the drugs increase pleasure, they also decrease inhibitions, prompting many users to engage in risky sexual activity. According to a recent report, now published in the British Medical Journal, data suggest an average of five sexual partners per session and that unprotected sex is the norm.

In a recent study, a team of British doctors looked at a previous survey regarding drug use during sex taken by homosexual men in the London area in order to get a better understanding of how widespread this practice was. Of the 1,142 respondents, about a fifth reported chemsex within the past five years and about a tenth within the past four weeks, showing that although the behavior is still only practiced by a minority of gay men, it’s increasing in popularity.   

In addition to uncovering the popularity of this practice, the researchers also revealed the dangers of chemsex. Many users report “losing days” and not eating for up to 72 hours. In addition, many users unknowingly expose themselves to HIV, and by the time they present themselves to health clinics after the drugs have worn off, it may be too late for them to be eligible for post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent an HIV transmission. According to The Huffington Post, one health expert referred to chemsex as the “perfect storm” for both HIV and hepatitis C transmissions. In addition to physical health problems, chemsex also puts users at risk for mental health conditions, as it can “create a powerful psychological dependence.”

Although the study was focused on chemsex in the London gay scene, the practice is likely found throughout the world. In addition, Dr. Richard Ma of the Royal College of GPs’ Sex Drugs Group told The Telegraph that chemsex is also seen in heterosexual patients as well.

The report’s authors highlight how, despite the dangers of chemsex, many clinics are given no specific recommendations for helping patients who have recently participated in this activity. Lack of data on the practice seriously limits health worker’s ability to address it. For this reason, the authors call for chemsex to become a public health priority in order best address this problem and prevent possible HIV outbreaks.

Source: McCall H, Adams N, Mason D, Willis J. What is chemsex and why does it matter? British Medical Journal. 2015.

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