Chemsex & HIV: Why take drugs to enhance sex?

Chemsex & HIV: Why take drugs to enhance sex?

Chemsex & HIV.

Chemsex is sometimes called chemfun, party and play or PNP. Using drugs for chemsex is different to drinking alcohol or taking drugs recreationally.

Here we look at the risks involved in chemsex and why it increases your chances of HIV infection.

What is chemsex?

Chemsex involves using drugs to enhance sex. Usually people do it to change the physical sensations they have during sex (increasing pleasure and their ability to have sex for longer), or to change their psychological experiences (increasing their confidence or removing inhibitions). Chemsex can last for many hours at a time and often with multiple sexual partners (for example at parties) but can also just involve a couple or lone masturbation. It is most common among gay men, but straight people often use drugs and alcohol to enhance sex too and there can be sexual health (and other) risks for them as well.

Which drugs are used for chemsex?

The three most popular drugs used during chemsex are:

  • gammahydroxybutyrate/gammabutyrolactone (also known as GHB/GBL, G or Gina)
  • mephedrone (meph or meow)
  • crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth)

They are taken on their own or together with alcohol or other drugs (such as cocaine or ecstasy).

What are the risks of chemsex?

Chemsex drugs change how you feel and behave. When you mix them with sex you increase your risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in a number of ways.

  • With fewer physical inhibitions you’re less likely to use condoms, even if you intended to beforehand.
  • You may not remember what you’ve done and whether you used condoms.
  • During a long session you might forget to take your pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication, making you more vulnerable to HIV if you’re not using condoms.
  • If you’re living with HIV, you might forget to take your HIV medication, which helps keeps you undetectable and prevents you from passing HIV onto your partners.
  • You may have sex with strangers (such as people you’ve hooked up with through social media or the internet) and you may have sex with multiple partners. This increases your chances of exposure to HIV and other STIs.
  • You may have more forceful sex than usual, because of the anaesthetic effects of drugs like GHB. The thin lining of the anus is easily damaged or torn during unlubricated anal sex, increasing the risk of HIV infection and other STIs, including hepatitis C.
  • If you have a particularly long sex session you may not think about accessing emergency post-exposure prophylaxis treatment (PEP) to prevent HIV transmission until it is too late. PEP only works if it is taken within 72 hours of infection.
  • You may inject mephedrone or crystal meth with shared needles (otherwise known as slamming), increasing your risk of both HIV and hepatitis C infection.

The drugs used in chemsex also have other health risks. It is easy to take too much GHB. This can cause you to ‘pass out’, leaving you more vulnerable to sexual assault. Whatever the circumstances, and whatever drugs you have taken, remember that sexual assault is never acceptable and is never your fault.

Chemsex drugs change how you feel, sometimes in unwanted ways. They can make you confused, paranoid or frightened and in some cases you can lose touch with reality and have very convincing hallucinations.

It is also common for people to have a ‘comedown’ after a chemsex session where they feel depressed or low. Certain anti-HIV drugs have been known to interact badly with chemsex drugs. In particular there have been cases of deaths resulting from interactions between ritonavir and crystal meth.

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