Under the Influence: Substance Use & Sex

Written By Adam Shanley.

Sex and drugs have been synonymous throughout human history, they have encompassed all aspects of sex from desire to performance and pleasure to disease. So, why is it that we now hear so much about Chemsex? It is generally seen as the sexualised use of drugs – so what brings it to such notoriety if this is something that people have engaged in throughout the ages?

Chemsex is actually something much more tightly defined. It refers to the use of GHB/GBL (G), crystal methamphetamine (Crystal, Tina) and/or mephedrone by men who have sex with men (MSM) before or during sex. These drugs are particularly potent and offer users a high which is intensely sexually disinhibiting.

In addition, the availability of hook-up apps has changed the way people seek and find sex and has created a platform for easily accessing Chemsex drugs. This represents a health concern different to that associated with the sex and drugs people more commonly engaged with in the past.

Engaging in Chemsex can sometimes simply be about the pursuit of pleasure and enjoyment of sex. For some, they feel in control of their drug use and take the preventative steps to protect their sexual health and wellbeing.

For others, engaging in Chemsex can also be about self-medicating complex issues that inhibit the enjoyment of sex or indeed with one’s identity. Such issues experienced by queer people include societal and internalised homophobia, the impact of the HIV epidemic within MSM cultures, religious or cultural shame that is often associated with queer identity and gay sex, a search for community/connectedness in an increasingly online world.

Whatever the motivation for involvement, the concern is the protection of sexual and mental health & wellbeing. While some of the more experienced chemsex enthusiasts can be quite adept at managing their drug use, sexual and mental health, others may not be and that’s where we need to be ready with queer-friendly, non-judgemental and non-stigmatising support.

If you are engaging in chemsex and you feel that it is has started to negatively impact your life or you suspect that it may do so in the future – please reach out for support. On campus, reach out to your medical centre, counselling services or trusted peers that can help you find support if you’re not in the place to do so yourself. Contact your local sexual health clinic, your local health and wellbeing organisations like Sexual Health Centre or Cork Gay Project. The Gay Men’s Health Service, while based in Dublin has ever-growing services and resources to assist you.

If you feel that Chemsex is something you are enjoying, please inform yourself on the best ways to reduce the harms that are associated with sex and drugs. There are resources available on www.man2man.ie and www.drugs.ie.

G is probably the drug of biggest influence and concern in our community right now. Below are some tips on keeping things as safe as possible when using G.

  • 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 can, and sadly have, overdosed leading to death.
  • 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 like PEP, PrEP and regular testing.

  • 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. If someone has passed out – they cannot consent to sex. If you see something, say something.

  • Call for help.
    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.