Chemsex is a form of sexualized drug use for which participants take recreational drugs to enhance, extend, or strengthen a sexual experience.
While chemsex is likely used by individuals of varying sexual orientations and backgrounds, historically, it has been more prevalent among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. As such, most (if not all) of the research on chemsex focuses on this population.
Which types of recreational drugs do people use during chemsex?
The psychoactive substances that are used for this purpose are sometimes collectively referred to as “chems.” However, more specifically, chemsex practitioners may use synthetic cathinone, MDMA, crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, and/or GHB/GBL (gammahydroxubutyrate/gammabutyrolactone).
Why might people choose to practice chemsex?
There are several reasons why a person might choose to participate in chemsex. Perhaps the most commonly cited reason for using recreational substances during sex is the lowering of one’s inhibitions that may, in some ways, enhance the experience. In a qualitative study on the chemsex experiences of 31 cisgender Italian men, many stated that they felt more relaxed and liberated during chemsex than they did during sober sex.
Another reason why people may choose to practice chemsex is that the chems allow them to stay sexually aroused for long periods of time, prolonging the sexual experience. For some individuals, these substances might increase their sexual pleasure or allow them to be more comfortable while engaging in certain sexual activities (e.g., receptive anal sex or fisting).
Can chemsex contribute to sexual or other health problems?
The short answer is, yes. Erectile difficulties are common during chemsex, due to the impact of the psychoactive substances on the body. Some participants may choose to overcome these difficulties by using oral erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra. Others may choose to focus on sexual activities that do not require an erection.
Aside from the erectile difficulties, chemsex has been associated with risky sexual behaviors and an increased risk of sexually transmitted infection (STI) and HIV transmission. The lack of inhibition brought on by the recreational substances may increase the likelihood of riskier sexual activities such as having unprotected sex, group sex, or sex with an unknown partner.
Some chemsex practitioners may begin to find sober sex less pleasurable and enjoyable, contributing to sexual dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction with sober sex may lead to further reliance on chems and possible addiction to these substances. Lastly, there is a chance that an individual could overdose during a chemsex session.
Where can one find support to move beyond chemsex?
Since chemsex is a relatively new phenomenon, there is limited information on the best treatment options for individuals who wish to quit it. Nevertheless, individuals who wish to stop engaging in chemsex should speak to their health care provider about the issue. A psychologist or sex therapist may be able to help this person overcome any difficult situations that may be exacerbating the problem. There are also support groups and programs for overcoming addictions to substances.
Bolmont, M., Tshikung, O. N., & Trellu, L. T. (2022). Chemsex, a contemporary challenge for public health. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 19(8), 1210-1213. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2022.03.616
Nimbi, F.M., Rosati, F., Esposito, R.M., Stuart, D., Simonelli, C., & Tambelli, R. (2021). Sex in Chemsex: Sexual Response, Motivations, and Sober Sex in a Group of Italian Men Who Have Sex With Men With Sexualized Drug Use. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 18(12), 1955-1969. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2021.09.013