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Chemsex and Gay Men's Mental Health: Is It More Than a Fuck-and-Go Situation?

© Covid-19 has brought significant changes to the way drugs are taken - Photograph via Pexels

Amplifying sex with drugs is the combination of two well known pleasurable activities... and we need to talk about it.

As if the arrival of the long-awaited coronavirus vaccine was an invitation to purposely loosen up a little bit, he glanced around at his bathroom and decided to douche; the horn had taken possession of him. Mike, whose intention is to remain anonymous throughout this piece, tells me he started chatting to a few lads on Grindr while he was sitting on the toilet and defecating. But the reasons that had driven him back to the hook-up scene were beyond the sexual appetite. The news of his best friend's passing, as well as of his being fired at work, had all come at once; therefore, Mike was rather in the hunt for an opportunity to boost his self-esteem, even if that required considering offers from people he scarcely knew. That's how he got introduced to chemsex.

'I had heard of chemsex before although I was never interested whatsoever' says Mike. 'The only thing I had tried was poppers. As much as I like them, I wanted to experience being high for a longer period of time, specially after finding out that certain drugs can make you feel relaxed even for days'.

'I think it was the fact of being alone during lockdown, plus seeing my loved ones dying from covid-related health complications, what pushed me to the edge. It was as though I didn't care whether such drugs could kill me. At that moment, I felt like the world was coming to an end regardless'.

© Like Mike, many other gay men prefer to stay anonymous - Photograph via Pexels

He kept scrolling down on the app until a picture of a guy wearing black undies appeared on the screen. The person in question was faceless, had pierced nipples and hairy pectorals. Although it was the profile's name what caught Mike's attention: 'HnH', which in gay jargon means 'horny and high'. As of today, dating apps' policies ban users from publicly advertising the sell of drugs and other for-sex substances. Yet, it only takes a quick chitchat for men to locate the nearest dealer in their neighbourhood, and that's been shamelessly accepted within the online LGBTQ+ community. What's more, some Grindr enthusiasts aren't particularly known for being dope peddlers, but for hosting non-stop parties at which people can come over, expose their genitals, and fuck each other while consuming all sorts of narcotics. Mike thinks he might have hesitated should his interlocutor have proposed to get high straightaway; instead, the unidentified profile worked his way through Mike's head by convincing him that chems were both 'harmless' and 'stress relievers'. A 'complementary ingredient', if you will.

'He made it very clear that he wasn't a drug dealer. He promised me he would talk me through how to go ahead with tina which was the drug he had. I wasn't convinced, you know, but the guy seemed so reliable that, even without seeing his face, I felt like I trusted him. He came to my house for a fuck-and-go meet, but after I got high we went to his and continue having sex for two more days', says Mike.

The term 'chemsex' is colloquially used in most parts of the United Kingdom to describe the use of psychoactive substances during sex. Its popularity amongst gay partiers had risen sharply over the past few years; however, and based on Mike's recollections, lockdown restrictions seem to have been laying the path for new comers to get into the chemsex dynamic. In fact, according to a survey published by Gay Men's Health Project, almost half of the sharers said they no longer engage in chemsex gatherings in person; instead, they have adopted chemsex online.

Indeed, it's too early to determine whether this move to online encounters will remain in practice after quarantine measures are eased across the country; cases like Mike's confirm otherwise. What specialists already know is that, for some, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a lack of face-to-face entertainment, and thus feelings of anxiety are difficult to cope with. In such instances, recreational drugs may serve as an escape mechanism. Ironically it's not the curiosity for supernatural orgasm that's attracting folks but the urgency to experience intimacy and companionship when feeling lonely.

Contrary to popular belief, only certain illegal substances constitute gay men's preferences when it comes to wanting stratospheric pleasure. There are, in principle, the following: methamphetamine (crystal meth or 'tina'), which is a stimulant that can be taken by snorting, injecting or smoking it; mephedrone (or 'meow meow'), mainly swallowed; and the newly acquired GHB (or 'G'), a liquid that people mix with other drinks and swallow. The three of them have the components needed to unchain a series of chemical reactions within the organism which brings euphoria up to the surface. Likewise, they have the capacity to keep the libido at its maximum, leading the person to ejaculate multiple times in a raw without experiencing pain or erectile dysfunction (depending on one's metabolism, of course). As mind-blowing as it may sound, however, such narcotics can easily deprive the desire for food and sleep; thus, participants are likely to find themselves in the midst of a major biological crisis once the effects are gone. The aftermath of chemsex is often named 'comedown', meaning that whoever took the drug is expected to walk into a period of complete depression caused by a hormonal imbalance.

Mike tells that his so-called mentor, who apparently turned out to be 'such a lovely dude', didn't invite him to smoke anything rather than 'tina': 'He was constantly making sure I was okay and offered to give me a lift after we finished. He also provided me with pills that helped retrieve my appetite and go to bed'. When asked whether he would do chemsex again, Mike shrugs in reply:

'I wouldn't know, to be honest. I did not feel great when I got home. I felt like I'd gone to the gym and it took me a while to fall asleep. I guess that's the sacrifice everyone has to pay for being able to get away from their problems'.

Drugs are thought to be manufactured by Dutch labs and trafficked through inter-European routes. With the effects of methamphetamine lasting longer than cocaine, for instance, 'tina' might become a high-demanded drug within our domestic market in the foreseeable future.

© Is Britain prepared to face the challenges these group of psychoactive substances will eventually impose? - Photography via Pexels

There is no evidence that suggests chemsex has contributed to the rise of new HIV cases in the UK, eve though it's been proven that the chemsex population is less likely to stick to their PreP routine whilst being high. Mike remembers he skipped one of his daily PreP douses because he forgot to bring his pills to his fuck buddy's house. Despite attempting to wear a condom so as to protect himself from catching a STI, he confesses he just didn't care too much. After all, he's conscious that 'free treatment is available at any sexual clinic' in case he'd gotten an infection. Mike also highlights the fact that he's been placed on a waiting list to access mental health services from the NHS. Yet, in his own words, 'it's been already a year since I last heard from a mental health practitioner'.

For anyone wanting to reduce their drug consumption, there are quite a few online counselling platforms they can refer to. Staying sober from chems might represent such a tough task to accomplish when the right support isn't provided, which is why sexual health charities are keen to assist gay men by launching as much workshops as they possibly can. Associations between narcotics and sex aren't obviously new - traditional psychoactive substances like ecstasy and cocaine have always been on the menu; however, the presence of 'tina', 'meow meow', and 'G' in people's bed is often planned out in advance. Mike affirms he hadn't deliberately thought of trying 'tina' when he went on Grindr, but he believes his one-night-stand partner was in the look out for new victims: 'you could tell I was feeling low because of all the things I'd gone through that week, and he simply took a chance'.

- Have you blocked him on your phone?

- Not yet. It's kinda hard to explain. For now I'm doing lots of exercise to stay focused. You know... it's complicated - he says.


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