What is Chemsex?
Chemsex is the use of certain drugs while having sex for the specific purpose of facilitating or enhancing that sex.
Chemsex isn’t the same as taking recreational drugs like cannabis or cocaine and having sex, because chemsex drugs are taken specifically with the expectation that they will enhance that sexual experience.
What drugs are involved in Chemsex?
Men often refer to these as “chems” when talking about chemsex. The term “chems” can sometimes also be used to describe recreational drugs as well, so it can be confusing, especially if you’re not sure of the exact context someone is using it in, for example when chatting on an App.
The drugs considered “chemsex” drugs when used in a sexual context are
All of these drugs are illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Click on each drug name above to get specific information about each drug and the law.
Some men report perceiving a sense of euphoria associated with increased sexual stimulation, sex drive, increased energy and a lowering of inhibitions.
Mephedrone is a stimulant that helps to keep you awake during a chemsex session. GHB/GBL can be used to enhance the effect of other drugs as well as relaxing you, and Methamphetamine can enhance your confidence and make you feel more impulsive.
The effects of these drugs can lead to sex that lasts longer than sober sex (sex when not taking any alcohol or drugs), is more adventurous or extreme, often with more sexual partners and typically with reduced consideration of the transmission risks of STIs or HIV.
Chemsex might involve only one of these drugs or a mixture of all three and possibly other drugs and alcohol in a session. There are various different ways to take chemsex drugs. The most risky from a health perspective is injecting drugs, called “slamming”, because of the increased risk of transmitting a blood borne virus (HIV, Hep C) from sharing equipment as well as the risks associated with poor injecting techniques, such as infections.
Because of the effects of these drugs chemsex sessions can last for prolonged periods of time, commonly over the course of a whole weekend, causing you to not sleep or eat as you normally would for a couple of days.
What are the risks of chemsex?
Chemsex shares all of the same risks as taking any drugs; overdose, dangerous drug interactions, sharing injecting equipment and dependence. These factors combined with the risks associated with sex, often with multiple partners, and possibly without condoms make chemsex potentially very risky for your sexual health.
The extended length of sex sessions during chemsex can make it more likely that condoms burst. It’s best to check condoms during sex and make sure you change condoms every 30 minutes and before having sex with a new partner. During longer and rougher sex it’s also very important to make sure you use enough lube as this will reduce the risk of condoms breaking.
If you don’t wear a condom you will have a much higher risk of STIs, Hepatitis C and HIV. Even if you do wear a condom but don’t change it between partners there is still a risk of transmitting HIV, Hep C and STIs between people. This is because small amounts of blood or anal mucas present on the outside of the condom can transmit these infections. If you inject (slam) your drugs it is important to use new sterile injecting equipment each time. If you share injecting equipment the risks of Hep C and HIV transmission are much higher.
In FAQ Scotland men report worrying about not remembering exactly what they have done when they mix sex and drugs. Men also told us they think using drugs can affect the decisions they make about sex, meaning you might take part in activities you wouldn’t normally choose to if you weren’t taking part in chemsex. There is also the risk of being unable to consent to sex and possibly being at an increased risk of sexual assault.
The long term affects of chemsex can range from depression, paranoia and psychosis to negative changes to your lifestyle including loss of employment, debt and harmful affects on relationships and friendships.
Terrence Higgins Trust have produced an Understanding chemsex booklet for gay and bisexual men including information on safer drug taking. The Scottish Drugs Forum have also produced a guide to safer injecting basics for NPS.
What About PrEP?
PrEP is the name given to medicines that can be taken by someone who is HIV negative to reduce their risk of becoming infected with HIV. PrEP needs to be taken regularly and as instructed to keep the level of drug high enough to prevent infection. If PrEP isn’t taken as instructed the level of medication may not be high enough to stop HIV infection.
PrEP is not a catch-all safer sex strategy, PrEP only protects against HIV infection. You could still get other STIs like gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia. As condoms are still the best way to prevent these and other STIs we recommend that you use condoms too.
You can find out more about PrEP in our PrEP FAQ section, including how it works, the eligibility criteria and how to make an appointment to talk to us about PrEP.
Online Chemsex Care Plan
The chemsex care plan is an online self-help resource for men who want help managing their chems use. You can select a goal you are comfortable and confident with and the online care plan then asks you a series of questions to help you work towards your goal and manage your chem use. We have linked to the online chemsex care plan with the permission of its creator David Stuart. The chemsex care plan is not an NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde resource and by following the link you will be leaving the Steve Retson Project website.
Please also note that the chemsex care plan was developed in London, so some of the services mentioned are not available in Scotland. You can access services in Glasgow at the Steve Retson Project or Sandyford. Take a look at the section immediately below for information on local services.
What help is there, if I feel I need to speak to someone about chemsex?
If you feel that chemsex is affecting your life in a way you are not happy with or it's affecting your physical or mental health it is important to speak to someone about it. You can speak to anyone you trust and feel comfortable discussing the issue with; it could be a friend, family member or a health professional.
You can talk to anyone at Steve Retson Project that you feel comfortable speaking to. We support men by offering sexual and emotional health services that are sensitive, confidential and non judgemental no matter the issues you want to discuss.
You can contact us by calling 0141 211 8130 to make an appointment at one of our clinics.
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