Chemsex is here to stay By Mario Forgione I have followed with mounting frustration the debate behind the release of ‘Chemsex’, a documentary about the increasing use of recreational drugs aimed at facilitating extended sexual activities among gay men. I feel we are missing the point, which is that chemsex is here to stay. As a non-professional, I am not qualified to express an opinion on why this is taking place, nor do I have the inclination to speculate. My aim is to be honest in relation to my own experience, to avoid the alleged sensationalism and negativity directed at the gay community by some media outlets and the sugarcoating of those who view the surge of drug use in certain circles as just another social pastime. Firstly: In a mile radius from my home, I have blocked about 70% of people on Grindr, the most popular gay hook-up app, as they were all after chemsex, be it recreational or otherwise. I do not think I solicited it in any way as I only had a face picture on my profile. How do you define recreational and how do we define the boundary where it becomes a problem? ‘Recreational’ is an adjective we often use in order to deny an issue. Gay people have a history of trivialising our problems and struggles. This time is no different. You hear it with increased regularity: “Oh, have you seen the state of HER? SHE can’t handle HER drugs!” Second: The gay scene has changed dramatically since the arrival of crystal meth, GHB and mephedrone. The closure of much of Vauxhall’s gay scene is not only down to social change in the area but is also a consequence of the fact that the ‘up for it’ people now choose to party at home. Third: Chill-out parties have turned from activities that would take place at the end of a good night/weekend, to the beginning of a bender of a completely different nature. Scenes of the ‘die-hard’ proudly congregating in the first available living room to ‘unwind’, listening to the latest chill-out volume of Café del Mar Ibiza Mix before crashing in bed are long gone. These days, gathering in a stranger’s living room is the beginning. It is also as far as it goes, for days. Pro and con as you might be, the fact remains that we can only prolong a sexual act up to a certain point before it turns into something pathological, along with the drugs taken in order to make it last for a whole weekend or well into the next week. It makes me wonder if sex is the excuse to take drugs or drugs the vehicle for having sex. What impact do these self-induced chemical highs have on the natural laws of attraction? Would you fancy the people you are having sex with if sobriety was part of the equation? I do not have answers. All I know is that out there, it is getting darker. We have heard the story of the person who died during a sex party. The rest of the group carried on ‘partying’ for another two days until someone finally came to his senses and remembered the corpse left decomposing in the guest room. Or stories of the numerous people dumped outside on the street after passing out on GHB, because the host does not want to get involved with calling an ambulance, which would also attract police attention. Fourth: Crystal, GHB and mephedrone are drugs that not only dehumanise people but also lower people’s sense of decency. Paying ‘in-kind’ for drugs if you have run out of money is a rather common practice. At the height of his addiction, an acquaintance of mine allowed a drug dealer to sodomise him in front of the rest of the group, simply because the dealer offered this as the only means to extinguish the debt. Not one of the men present lifted a finger or voiced concern. How low can you bend your sense of self before you become someone else? How much degradation can you endure? Fifth: There doesn’t seem to be a weekend that goes by where we don’t hear about someone collapsing or even dying because of these drugs. These are someone’s friends, partners, lovers or sons. I find it tragic. What is also tragic is that we, as a community, are brushing the issue under the carpet. This is the tip of the iceberg. There is more to come, considering no one is discussing the issue of escorts and illegal immigrants stuck in this underworld from hell. A large number of them, for whom there is little data, are too afraid to seek help for fear of deportation. The most staggering situation of all? Chemsex is currently a gay thing, unless proved otherwise and this is a problem. On 8 April 2015, the now ex-PM of Australia Tony Abbott held a press conference where he announced on national TV that his government was launching a new task force aimed at tackling ‘the growing scourge’ of crystal meth, stating that the highly addictive nature of this drug made it particularly challenging to curb its use. On hearing the news, I remember wondering why such a thing was not happening in the UK, and then it dawned on me. As with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the government will only address this issue publicly if it becomes a national crisis. What if it doesn’t? Shall we only sit here and let people die just because there are bigger problems out there? The media is not demonising gay people; it is reporting something that is becoming rife within the gay community. Those who are not comfortable with it perhaps should take an honest look at themselves, as it seems the truth always lies among the many cracks in our soul. SUPPORT: Chemsex support at 56 Dean Street: for gay men who use drugs for sex. Walk-in appointments Tuesday evenings, Thursday afternoons and two Saturday afternoons each month. For details visit www.chemsexsupport.com. ADVICE: For advice on reducing the harms related to chemsex, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/saferchems. GET TO KNOW: G (GHB/GBL) What is GHB/GBL? GHB (gammahydroxybutyrate), or G, is a liquid drug that you drink. It gives you a similar feeling to alcohol as it works on the same receptors in the brain. Like alcohol, it’s used for binging but you can also become addicted to it. The high lasts for about two hours and (unlike alcohol) it doesn’t give you a hangover. G is great for dancing and for sex as it’s one of the few drugs that enable a hard-on. It makes users confident to take off their shirts and feel like the hottest thing in the club. Some people also take it if they can’t fall asleep, but they are unaware that in fact they fall into a G-induced coma rather than sleep. Because of the many ‘benefits’ users get from G it’s easy to get addicted to it. How does GHB/GBL affect my health? Like many other drugs, G increases the desire for sex and reduces inhibitions. You are therefore a lot more likely to put yourself at risk of HIV and other STIs by having unprotected sex. It is easy to overdose on G and enter into a state of unconsciousness, leaving you vulnerable to sexual assault. Some people use G to take the edge off crystal, which decreases your inhibitions even further and so you are that much more likely to end up taking risks. Getting the dosage right is difficult because the strength of G varies with each bottle, therefore it is easy to take more than your body can handle and it could result in overdose, coma, respiratory collapse and even death. Most people do wake up from it with no side effects whatsoever but there are a few who do not, so if you use G it’s important to dose correctly and not mix it with alcohol. Because G is a relatively new drug, it’s likely that some of the deaths that have taken place in the past few years have not been documented. G is also physically addictive: many users find themselves dosing many times a day, just to avoid difficult and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. You can become addicted even in the space of a week if using regularly. Stopping ‘cold turkey’ can result in confusion, anxiety, panic, hallucinations and delirium and, in some cases, respiratory collapse. People using G dependently ought to seek medical support before attempting to stop their use. If you have been using G regularly for a week or more and begin to feel anxious or confused between doses, seek medical support from a drug service or A&E. Can I mix GHB/GBL with alcohol and other drugs? Drinking alcohol while under the influence of GHB can slow down the central nervous system and affect your respiratory system. This is very dangerous and should be avoided. Taking other drugs with GHB is likely to increase its effectiveness and could prove dangerous. What do I need to know if I am planning to take GHB/GBL? It’s very difficult to measure the correct dose of G. As with all illicit drugs, there are no quality control standards for G, therefore each dose could be different every time you take it. If you are planning to take G, make sure you take small doses and leave at least two hours between each dose, otherwise you could overdose or fall into a coma. Don’t drink alcohol and don’t take other depressant drugs when you are on G because the combination can increase your risk of overdose. If you or any of your friends are starting to feel unwell or start vomiting, call an ambulance immediately. You can sometimes get so high on G that you may be on the floor rolling around sexually but you might not necessarily be inviting consent. So if you are in a sauna cubicle or at a sex party, you may look horny and conscious but you are not and people might take sexual advantage of you. For this reason, it’s important to be informed and have people that you trust around you.