Chemsex, or party and play, is the act of using drugs to enhance sexual experience. Common drugs used for it include crystal meth and GHB. The risks of chemsex not only include the drug side effects, but also the potential for sexually transmitted infections. Support services, counseling, and harm-reduction strategies can help to stop this dangerous practice.
What is Chemsex?
Chemsex, short for “chemical sex,” involves using psychoactive and recreational drugs to enhance sexual activity. Sometimes it’s also called “party and play” (PnP).
People have chemsex to heighten sensations, reduce inhibitions, and prolong sexual encounters. It’s often conducted in group settings, such as sex parties or private gatherings.
Despite the seemingly positive effects, chemsex carries significant health risks, including:
- Potential for drug addiction
- Mental health issues
- Transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Chemsex hasn’t been around for that long. It’s thought to have emerged in the late 20th century, as club culture and recreational drugs came onto the scene.
It also has roots in the LGBTQ+ community, where it was initially seen as a form of sexual liberation and a means of bonding. Today, dating apps have made it even easier to facilitate chemsex.
What Types of Drugs are Used in Chemsex and PnP?
A combination of drugs is sometimes used during chemsex, making it even more dangerous. The most commonly used ones include:
Crystal Meth (Tina Drug)
Crystal meth, also known as “Tina,” is a powerful stimulant that can keep users awake for a long time. This drug increases energy, enhances sexual arousal, and decreases inhibition. But it carries severe risks, including:
- Heart problems
- Mental health issues like psychosis and depression
The use of Tina is often linked to prolonged and intense sexual encounters, which can lead to physical harm and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Plus, the comedown feelings from crystal meth can be harsh.
GHB (Gina Drug)
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), or “Gina,” is another popular drug within the chemsex scene because it produces feelings of euphoria and prolongs sexual encounters. But GHB’s sinister side effects can include memory loss and even loss of consciousness, making users vulnerable to sexual assault.
Other drugs used in the chemsex scene include mephedrone (also known as “meow meow”), ketamine, cocaine, and various forms of MDMA. Like meth and GHB, these drugs’ use can lead to risky behavior, such as unprotected sex, increasing the risk of sexually transmitted infections.
Why Do People Participate in Chemsex?
People are drawn to the idea of chemsex because of its potential to enhance sexual pleasure and duration. Certain substances can significantly boost your libido and sexual stamina, leading to prolonged and often more intense sexual experiences. This heightened state of arousal, combined with the loss of inhibitions that often comes with drug use, can make chemsex enticing.
It can also be used as a form of escapism, letting the user temporarily forget about their stress, anxiety, and depression. Sometimes people also feel that it offers them a sense of community and acceptance in a world that has marginalized or stigmatized them for their sexual orientation.
Is Chemsex Safe?
In short, chemsex is not safe. No matter the perceived benefits, chemsex is dangerous by its very nature because of the use of drugs.
Methamphetamine, mephedrone, and GHB/GBL used during chemsex can have serious health implications, such as:
- Increased heart rate and high blood pressure
- Substance dependence
- Mental health problems
- Death in extreme cases
There’s also the psychological risk. The intense highs of chemsex can be followed by severe lows, exacerbating feelings of depression and anxiety.
Regular participation can lead to a cycle of dependence, where you rely on chemsex for pleasure, escape, or social connection.
Here are other risks to be aware of.
Overamps and Overdoses
Overamping, also known as an overdose, is a significant risk associated with chemsex. The drugs used in chemsex are potent and can easily lead to overdose if taken in high doses or combined with other substances.
Symptoms of an overdose can vary depending on the drug taken but may include seizures, unconsciousness, and in severe cases, death.
GHB/GBL, in particular, is associated with a high risk of overdose because the difference between a recreational dose and an overdose is minimal. Overdoses can also occur as a result of tolerance; when someone uses a drug repeatedly, they may need larger doses to achieve the same effect.
Remember: Overdoses are always a medical emergency and require immediate attention.
Infections, Including STIs:
Another serious risk associated with chemsex is the transmission of bloodborne and sexually transmitted infections, especially when drugs are injected. Sharing needles or other injecting equipment can lead to the transmission of HIV, hepatitis C, and other bloodborne viruses.
Chemsex parties often involve multiple people and chaotic environments, increasing the risk of accidental needle sharing. Even if someone doesn’t usually inject drugs, they may be more likely to do so under the influence or in the heat of the moment.
This risk is not limited to those who inject drugs. Other sexual practices associated with chemsex, such as fisting or prolonged sex, can also increase transmission of bloodborne viruses.
Bacterial infections can occur as a result of unclean needles or poor personal hygiene. Skin and soft tissue infections are common, especially at injection sites. These can vary in severity from minor abscesses to life-threatening necrotizing fasciitis.
Chemsex can also increase the risk of more serious, systemic infections. This includes endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves, which can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.
Remember: Bacterial infections can occur even without visible signs of injury or infection. Anyone who engages in chemsex should be alert to any changes in their health and seek medical attention promptly if they develop any unusual symptoms.
Anal injuries can occur as a result of rough or prolonged sexual activity, particularly when drugs are used to reduce pain or increase endurance. These can range from minor tears to severe trauma, and in some cases, may require surgical intervention.
In addition to physical pain, anal injuries can lead to complications including anal incontinence, rectovaginal fistulas, and increased risk of STIs. The stigma and embarrassment associated with these injuries can prevent people from seeking help, leading to further complications.
Remember: Listen to your body and seek prompt medical attention if you experience pain or discomfort.
Mental Health Struggles
The social and emotional aspects of chemsex—pressure to fit in, fear of rejection, and the potential for exploitation or abuse—can also cause:
- Low self-esteem
When you come down from the drugs used in chemsex, you may also experience depression, lethargy, and anxiety that can last for several days.
Tips for Safer Chemsex and Harm Reduction
Given the risks associated with chemsex, it’s essential to discuss ways to minimize harm if you choose to participate:
- Be fully informed about the substances you intend to use. Know their potential effects, risks, and interactions with other substances, including alcohol. Always remember that mixing different substances can significantly increase the risks.
- Consider your sexual health. Always use protection to reduce your risk of contracting or transmitting STIs. Regular testing is also crucial, as many STIs can be asymptomatic. If you’re at high risk of contracting HIV, you might also consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
- Reach out to support networks. If you find yourself struggling with dependence or negative side effects, many organizations can provide support and help you navigate your way toward healthier practices.
Chemsex, like any sexual activity, is a personal choice. It involves the use of various drugs to enhance sexual experiences, but this pursuit of pleasure often comes with severe consequences.
From overdoses and infections to mental health concerns, the dangers of chemsex are real and significant. That’s why anyone engaging in chemsex should be aware of these risks and take steps to mitigate them.
Remember, if you’re struggling with issues related to chemsex, you’re not alone. Support services can provide help and advice, from harm reduction strategies to counseling and treatment options.
Author: Giselle Leung, PharmD, BCGP. Giselle is a practicing pharmacist with over 9 years of experience in the community and long-term care pharmacy settings; and a freelance medical writer. She earned her PharmD from the University of the Pacific Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy in 2014. She is a Board-Certified Geriatric Pharmacist (BCGP), who focuses on the complex medication needs of older adults.