Chemsex means using certain drugs as part of your sex life. It describes using drugs before or during planned sexual activity to sustain, enhance, disinhibit or facilitate the experience. But chemsex comes with a lot of risks and can have long-lasting consequences.
What is chemsex?
The term chemsex is used in Europe and Asia. In America and Australia, it’s known as PnP, which stands for ‘party and play’.
It’s most commonly practised by gay men and other men who have sex with men. But it does affect people of all genders and sexualities, including straight men and women, trans women and non-binary people.
Not everyone who uses drugs will try chemsex, and not everyone who has chemsex will experience problems. There are different levels of use, from experimenting once to daily drug taking.
We’ve worked with the experts at Controlling Chemsex to find out more about chemsex and how it can affect your sexual health.
Why do people do it?
People take part in chemsex for a lot of different reasons. And not all the reasons are related to sexual pleasure.
Reasons related to sex:
to make the pleasure more intense
to become more sexually adventurous, with fewer inhibitions
to be able to do things that could otherwise be uncomfortable or painful, like fisting
because they find it difficult to enjoy sex without drugs involved
to manage stress and anxiety about sex, for example, premature ejaculation or low sexual desire
Reasons not related to sex:
to increase their confidence if they have low self-esteem
escaping from reality and problems
managing challenging emotions such as depression, stress, loneliness
difficulties experiencing joy without drugs involved
to meet new people
sense of belonging to a group, even if it’s a group of people who use drugs
the strong sense of connection that can happen with someone who they use chems with
What drugs does it involve?
In the UK, chemsex typically involves 3 specific drugs, known as chems. These are taken before or during sex. These drugs are:
Crystal methamphetamine, also known as T, Tina, crystal, ice or meth
Methamphetamine is a very addictive stimulant. It’s one of the most common drugs used for chemsex all over the world.
It has an almost immediate stimulating effect on the central nervous system. Some of its effects include increased physical activity, increased wakefulness, and reduced feelings of tiredness. It can make you feel alert, sexually aroused, and incredibly confident and powerful.
Mephedrone, also known as M, Meow Meow, M-Kat, Drone or CAT
Mephedrone is also a very powerful stimulant. Its main effects include an increase in euphoria, talkativeness, alertness, and a very strong sense of connection and empathy with others.
GHB or GBL, also known as G or Gina
GHB and GBL are depressant or sedative drugs. In small doses, they can make you feel euphoric and more confident, with a loss of inhibitions, higher libido and greater sensitivity to touch. The dose of these drugs is hard to get right because there’s a high risk of overdosing. The difference between a recreational dose and an overdose may only be a matter of millilitres.
Chemsex and dating apps
A lot of chemsex activity is organised through gay dating apps such as Grindr, Scruff and Recon. It’s one of the most popular ways of connecting with others who use chems. People use specific terms, like a code, in messages and on their profiles to show they enjoy chemsex and to find partners.
Terms you might see:
HnH - short for ‘high and horny’, means someone is interested in chemsex
BB or raw - shows that someone is looking for anal sex without a condom, known as bareback
T - short for Tina, another name for crystal meth
G - means GHB or GBL
M - means mephedrone
V - interested in using Viagra
What are the risks?
These drugs can make you feel invulnerable to harm, supremely confident and not worried about consequences. This can mean that you might take risks that you usually would avoid.
Meth and mephedrone particularly can keep you awake for days, prioritising sex over anything else. This means you often neglect your most basic needs. Things like eating, hydration, and sleeping can be forgotten. And this has an effect on your health, career and relationships.
All of this can have a destructive impact on almost every area of your life. If you’re using chems, you might experience problems with:
physical health, from accidents and injuries, nutritional issues, lung and heart diseases, dental problems and disrupted sleeping patterns
mental health, including high levels of depression, anxiety, or psychotic episodes such as paranoia or hallucinations
emotional health – issues like isolation, domestic and relationship issues, low self-esteem or inability to focus or make decisions
sexual health – chemsex comes with a high risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like HIV, hepatitis C, syphilis and gonorrhoea. If you’re living with HIV or taking other HIV-related medications (like PrEP), it can mean you forget to take your medication regularly
financial issues and unemployment
personal safety such as drug overdoses or suicides
chemsex-related crimes: sexual assault and robbery can take place at chemsex sessions
legal issues, let’s not forget that these drugs are illegal to buy, sell and have in your possession
Reducing the risks
It might be obvious, but the best way to avoid the negative side of chemsex is to not get involved in chemsex at all. But this isn’t always what people want to do. Understanding the risks and how to reduce them can help you have a safer session.
There’s no quality control or ingredient lists when it comes to chems. Try to avoid problems with the quality by choosing a dealer who you trust and who knows what they are selling.
Go to sessions with someone who you know and trust. Agree to look after each other if either of you is having a bad time.
If you invite people you don’t know to your place, keep your money and valuables in a safe place. Unfortunately, not everybody is trustworthy, and it’s always better to be cautious.
When you’re sober, think about your boundaries. What do you want to do and what don’t you? Are there chems you don’t want to take, or people you don’t want to be involved with? How long do you want to stay out partying? Setting boundaries when sober makes them easier to stick to when you get high.
Before playing, get together everything that you might need for a long session. Pack lots of condoms and lube. If you’re injecting or slamming chems, take needles of different colours. Then everyone can use a different colour and you won’t accidentally share needles.
After 2 days without sleeping, you can start to experience paranoia, hallucinations and psychotic episodes. To avoid this, don’t play for too long.
To take care of your mental and physical health, it’s better not to do chems regularly.
It can be difficult, but remembering to eat food and drink water is really important. Your body will be VERY thankful if you take care of it.
If you’re regularly having chemsex, it can be a challenge to have sober sex. To avoid this, make sure chemsex is not the only sexual activity you have. Mix it up with dates and sober sex encounters as well.
If you're going out for a session, get your favourite food ready at home. Tidy up and make your home as welcoming as you can. Sometimes it’s not easy to go back home, and you can stay out for longer than you want to. Knowing your home is a safe and welcoming space makes it easier to leave sessions that you're not enjoying.
If you’re on regular medication - whether it be HIV treatment, PrEP or medication for anxiety and depression - take your medication with you when you go out. And set labelled reminders on your phone so you don’t forget to take the pills you need at the right time.
Chemsex and sexual health
Using drugs during sex can make you feel more sexually adventurous. And they can lower inhibitions. This means you might do things sexually that you wouldn’t usually do. This could be sex with multiple people, not using protection, and having sex for long sessions. All of this puts you at a higher risk for STIs and other problems with your sexual health.
Studies have shown that men who have sex with men and take part in chemsex:
are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection
are 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV
are 9 times more likely to be diagnosed with hepatitis C
Remember that chems allow people to stay awake and horny for longer than usual. This can lead to having sex with more people than usual. And the more people you’re with, the higher the risk of STIs. Also, sex that lasts for a long time can lead to broken skin around the anus and genitals, which can increase the risk of STIs, HIV and hepatitis C.
Some people are HIV positive but don’t know it. And STIs like gonorrhoea and chlamydia often don’t show any symptoms.
Having unprotected sex, without PrEP or condoms, with someone just because they’ve said they are negative is an unnecessary risk. Using condoms and latex gloves will reduce your risk of getting HIV and other STIs.
Regular STI testing means you can stay informed about your HIV status and treat any STIs early. Taking a test every 3 months allows you to stay on top of any STIs, be treated early and reduce the number of people you need to inform.
You can get tested in your local sexual health clinic. Or you can order a test kit to do yourself, at home.
If you’re living with HIV
Your HIV diagnosis doesn’t have to change your sex life. Getting treatment soon after diagnosis means you can get your viral load to undetectable levels. Undetectable means the virus cannot be transmitted, or passed on to any other people.
Another benefit of starting treatment early is helping you have a long and healthy life. People who take effective treatment can expect to live a normal life expectancy, free from complications or infections related to their HIV.
Where can I get support?
If you’re struggling with chemsex and the issues it causes, reach out to Controlling Chemsex. They’re a specialised charity that can offer practical advice, reliable information and professional support for anyone who wants to stop or reduce their chems use.
Only you can say how much chemsex is affecting your life. If you’re worried or want to think about how chemsex is impacting different areas of your life, you can use the Controlling Chemsex self-assessment.
It’s completely confidential, your answers are not shared or stored. This tool helps you to look at all areas of your life to understand how chemsex is affecting you.