In our continuing series, we look at chemsex and process addiction, and how gay men can be vulnerable when the two are combined.
By Vanessa McQuarrie
THE APPEAL OF combining sex and drugs is obvious: more intense sex, increased arousal, lower inhibitions, and enhanced intimacy. People have been combining drugs and sex – as couples and in groups – ever since, well, ever since they could. The types of drugs involved change according to what’s popular at the time and available.
Chemsex or “Party And Play” (PnP for short) is an iteration predominantly practiced by gay and bisexual men. PnP has come to focus on a handful of illicit drugs which, combined with prescription medications such as Viagra, add longevity to its list of appealing attributes.
Simon Ruth, CEO of Thorne Harbour Health, an organisation which provides services to the LGBTQI community in Victoria, notes that while people are still using a range of drugs to enhance sex – from ice and ecstasy to cannabis and amyl – the biggest change over time relate to the circumstances in which they do so. “The move from bars and clubs to apps and private spaces has had an impact,” he says. Using drugs in homes is easier than navigating use in more public spaces like laneways, crowded dancefloors and toilet cubicles. Meanwhile, hooking up using an app allows for almost instant gratification. Along with the pros come the cons, like an increased risk of overdose: “Some of the drugs can have fatal consequences if you don’t know how to use them.” – Simon Ruth
The drugs may also inspire men to take on sexual roles they normally wouldn’t – tops become bottoms and vice versa – and this requires different approaches and preparation methods to stay safe. If safety is neglected, there’s an increased risk of acquiring HIV and STIs. Men who practice chemsex frequently may risk addiction – and not only to the drugs. Process addiction is the constant scrolling through apps to the point that it’s detrimental to work, social and home life. Compulsively repeating the processes leading up to chemsex is a type of behavioural addiction. It affects the brain differently to substance addiction, but both types are characterised by the same law of diminishing returns: the more a person seeks out the experience, the less pleasure they derive from the action. “As with all long-term drug use across any community, chemsex can have some serious impacts on people,” says Brent Mackie, Associate Director Of Strategy, Policy And Research at ACON, an LGBTQI health service in New South Wales. Men who are more dependent on chemsex are at greater risk of mental and physical health problems, he says, and may experience anxiety attacks, acute paranoia, sexual dependency, injection site injuries, and sexual consent concerns.
Mackie is one of the authors of the FLUX Study (Following Lives Undergoing Change) which collects data on drug use by gay and bisexual men. FLUX confirms that only frequent illicit drug use (including chemsex) is associated with poor mental health outcomes. “For the most part, men who engage in such things as sex partying are no different in terms of mental health to other men; [they] may even have somewhat better mental health. Of course, a small proportion of men who engage in chemsex have problems, including mental health problems, and they deserve appropriate support,” says Mackie.
HELP AND SUPPORT