Chemsex has been subject to much media reportage lately, and stories of people overdosing and/or dying seem to be popping up quite often.
Chemsex refers to the use of drugs before or during sex, usually between gay or bisexual men. The most common drug to take for chemsex is ‘G’, which could refer to GHB (gammahydroxybutrate) or GBL (gammabutyrolactone), and gives you a more euphoric feel than regular intercourse, but recent reports have warned of the potential danger.
Last month, it was reported that a transgender woman was murdered during a chemsex party in a hotel room in London, while Buzzfeed reported that a former high-ranking gay police officer in the UK lost his ex-boyfriend due to an overdose on G.
GCN contacted Adam Shanley, who works with the Gay Men’s Health Service to gather data about chemsex and educate people about what it is, the dangers, and ways to protect yourself.
How did the conversation around chemsex begin?
“After seeing many of my friends at parties passing out and not really understanding what was going on, I asked around and found that they were using ‘G’, which I didn’t know a lot about. I started looking into it and learned about the chemsex scene,” said Adam.
“I went to London for some training and when I came back I worked with the Gay Men’s Health Service to look at changing the types of questions we asked people who attend sexual health training. By doing that we were able to recognise that there were people engaging in chemsex, and that’s fine, but there were people who had problematic use where it was impacting their lives.
“We were able to recognise that there was an issue, and then build an evidence base to say that this is actually happening.”
How prominent is it in Ireland?
“We found that one in four were engaging in chemsex, while one in four of those said it was impacting negatively on their lives. It’s important to note that, from that evidence base, 75% of chemsex users felt in control of their drug use and happy with the sex they were having. But 25% felt that it was negatively impacting their lives.
“The real picture is likely to see many more people struggling. There are limitations to our evidence base. It was solely the Gay Men’s Health Service and only people who used the service over a six-week period. It wasn’t a community-wide survey.
“We are continuously building an evidence base. We are finishing some qualitative research as well: twelve face-to-face interviews with those who are actively engaging in chemsex.
“You can have stats and figures, but this will give us a real picture of what it’s like to be engaged in chemsex.”
What discussions are you having about chemsex?
“Every quarter, I work with the Gay Men’s Health Service to deliver a half-day training event on chemsex, which is on offer to people who work in the sector, like doctors, nurses, drug workers, NGO’s and probation service members.
“We talk about G and what might motivate people to get involved in chemsex, and the vehicles in which it is made accessible, like hookup apps, [or] the sexualisation of the gay scene.
“Then we have a conversation about how people can offer support in workplaces and go through the harm-reduction information that’s needed.
“Speaking to students, I’ll explain the drugs involved, then I’ll bring up a bit more of an open discussion around why people get involved. For many people, chemsex is simply the pursuit of pleasure and to enjoy sex, which is great, but for others, it’s about self-medicating complex issues.
“We tease out some of those issues, like internalised homophobia, the impact of an HIV diagnosis, shame, or lots of different things.
“Then [I would] walk through some of the harm-reduction information, so if they do want to engage in chemsex, they know how to do it as safely as possible.”
How can someone protect themselves if they decide to engage in chemsex?
“G is probably the drug of biggest influence and concern in our community right now.
“Always pre-measure your own G. Use as low of a dose as possible. G, at very small doses, gives the euphoric and horny effect, but in slightly higher doses, it can cause people to pass out, go under or end up in a coma. Some people, unfortunately, can overdose and die.
“Don’t mix G with alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, similar to G. If you mix G with alcohol, it increases the risk of an overdose.
“Avoid using G when you’re alone. Use it with people you trust, in a safe environment so if you do get into trouble with a potential overdose, there is someone there to look out for you.
“Always carry condoms, or look into other prevention options available for you. If you are going to a sex party, and if condoms are not an option for you when under the influence of drugs, look at other prevention options.
“If someone goes under, they cannot consent to sex. When engaging in sex parties and sex in general, clearly communicate what’s okay and what’s not.
“One of the most important things is not to presume that people will sleep it off. If they go under, put them in the recovery position, and if you can’t get them to come around, call 999.
For more information, visit www.gayswitchbaord.ie
If you were affected by any of the issues highlighted in this article you can reach out to the following:
T: 1890 929 539 | W: www.lgbt.ie
TENI Helpline (Transgender Support)
T: 085 147 7166 | W: www.teni.ie
T: 01-872 1055 | W: www.gayswitchboard.ie
T: 1850 60 90 90 | W: www.samaritans.ie
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
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