Darrell Jones is a Drug Expert Witness who has spent his time with specialist addiction doctors, psychologists, nurses, counsellors, discussion groups such as The European Chemsex Forum and speaking with men who have previously attended and hosted Chemsex parties to understand what takes place within this not so new drug enhanced sexual environment.
I have spoken with a number of different people who are associated with Chemsex and asked the same question “What is Chemsex?”, and I have had numerous answers but it all comes down to roughly the same thing, it’s a term which has been coined to define chemically enhanced sex by men who have sex with men. It takes place within a subsection of the gay community, and it is not just that this arena is growing, but society in general is becoming more aware of it for a variety of reasons, be it social and mainstream media reporting on recent murders within this environment to the use of PEP and PrEP which I will come to later, but the fact that the number of negative incidents linked to this section of the gay community are catching the headlines.
Chemsex is seen by many who work within sexual health clinics and other similar services as a complicated sexual arena rather than a complicated drug related arena. Putting those views aside for a moment, this is still a very drug specific setting, the aptly named “un-holy trinity” of drugs, which have become notorious for the scene are Methamphetamine (Crystal, T, Tina, Meth), Mephedrone (M-cat, Meph, Drone) and Gamma-hydroxybutyrate / Gamma-butyrolactone (GHB/GBL, G, Gina) or also known as date rape are used by nearly everyone who attends.
Methamphetamine is a strong central nervous system amphetamine-based stimulant. The initial rush creates a euphoric feeling which can last up to 30 minutes depending on the route of administration and the sense of well-being can last 6 to 12 hours. During an event the people who I spoke with said that they would initially slam (inject) the first hit then continue smoking it while engaged in sex, the continued use would maintain the euphoric high and avoid the pain of the inevitable comedown.
The next consumable is GBL (gamma-butyrolactone) (often used and known as date rape) is a sedative/depressant which creates a similar feeling to being drunk but in control, along with an initial rush of euphoria and reduced inhibitions it is taken on the hour every hour as phones are synched to alert everyone when the next shot is due. Everyone looks out for each other with measurement of doses and effects to make sure no-one goes under, as a typical dose varies from 0.5ml to 1.5ml, two milliliters is enough to induce coma and then there is a fine line between quantities which induce coma to heart failure and death.
Last of the trio is Mephedrone (drone, m-cat, meow meow), chemically similar to amphetamine, and is taken to offset the lethargic effect of GBL. The initial feeling is one of euphoria, extremely horny, and sexually alert to what is going on around, being empathic to others and very confident. This cocktail of drugs all mixed together seriously reduces your inhibitions, boosts your self-worth and engages you with everyone in the room to the extent where you are having sex, lots of sex, with lots of total strangers and feeling the best you have ever felt and are having the best sex you could imagine. A few days later the come down kicks in, and for a short space of time you consider your options, then its back on the apps looking for the next hook up. What really convinces you to go again is that your drug dealer has just sent out another group text with a picture of a kitten smiling with the phrase “Thank F**K it’s Friday get your special offers T,G,M, V’s party packs available” .
Some men attend these events to overcome personal issues they may have, consuming drugs to overcome fears of rejection, sexual inadequacies, being ashamed about their body and to feel sexually released. Many gay men have struggled with growing up with a different sexual identity than what may have been expected of them, with the help of these apps men have been able to communicate instantly with people who have had the same feelings and desires to fit in and find friendship. I have seen that this can also come at a cost as they are introduced into a setting they may not have expected, or even liked but again the need to fit in, to be accepted wins over any negative judgement they may have of what is taking place.
The men who attend are from all walks of life and some tend to fit themselves into certain categories of which they are quite proud, for example Wolves: Late 30s to 40s, lean to semi muscular, usually hairy, often with facial hair. Otters: Late 20s to 30s, leaner, usually hairy, often with facial hair and Twinks: Late teens-early 20s, boyish features, thinner to slim build, and usually smooth skinned, to many other descriptive terms which men categorise themselves, and there’s those who don’t who are generally referred to as “others”. Their financial status may be that they sofa surf and live off friends and family, or they have high paid jobs with a large disposable income to men in their 70’s who pay for young sun kissed muscular male escorts/sex workers who are supplied free drugs to advertise on their profiles that a Chemsex party is on. The purpose being to attract similar looking men for the older generation to hopefully get involved with when the free drugs kick in.
Men I have spoken with have said that the Crystal Meth and Mephedrone impacts the ability to obtain an erection and ejaculation, and at a sex party that is the last thing you would want. Viagra, Kamagra or similar erectile dysfunction medication are consumed in abundance, one man said that he would often be more concerned about the rush of blood in certain parts of his body rather than the cocktail of drugs he was injecting, smoking and drinking as he would take one Viagra with every shot of GBL on the hour every hour. The open and frank discussion about how the drugs take over and extreme sexual disinhibition kicks in was quite sorrowful. Any stigma, shame or intimacy issues were stripped away as the drugs took over and the hours turned into days, the boundaries which had been set prior to drug use have long since disappeared, unprotected sex has taken place with multiple partners whose names are a blur or not even known, and extreme sexual practices which would never be have been considered under “normal” circumstances had now become standard practice. Injecting crystal meth (slamming) once viewed as a step too far towards addiction, and “only addicts inject” is now at the top of the list of things to do as soon as you arrive, then all of a sudden wondering what happened to the last five days.
Chemsex parties will often last for several days and these events can be easily found on any number of sexual networking sites and smartphone apps, for example Grindr, Scruff, BarebackRT and Gaydar to name but a few. The men I spoke with stated that they would never host a party at their own place if they were dealing drugs, because they knew as soon as they got into full swing the drugs would be out and selling them would not even be considered. This environment created a niche market for drug dealers, numerous clients in one location for days on end who require serving up, payments made by the use of banking apps such as pingit and Apple pay, new arrivals requiring their first hit, party goers looking for the next Chemsex party which, assisted by the geo-location apps is never too far away. I was told that dealers would to take amphetamines to stay awake over long weekends to supply numerous clients at numerous venues.
Flying around London on mopeds to serve a very demanding market which will go on for several days, established dealers have their clients details stored in their handsets and as soon as an order in placed the standard response is sent and the supply continues. The content of the message is often seen as a basic abbreviation for the common commodities, for example GMTV or TKMAX, very commonly used acronyms for GBL, Meph, Tina and Viagra or Tina, Ketamine and Meph the deal is set, the drugs are served and the party continues. It would not be uncommon for a dealer to return to the same venue several times over a number of days
I’ve been told how this “Party N Play” culture became a way of life, of being unable to have sex without “Chems” and numerous known and unknown partners, there was no off button until your body was physically unable to cope, which could be 3 or 4 days later. He told me how people were always looking for the next guy, irrelevant of how many were there and what they looked like, the apps always contained someone new and exciting. More often than not these parties were spontaneous and would often start with just 2 men, smart phones and apps, and before long there would be numerous men arriving with or without drugs soon followed by the men with the drugs…the dealers.
When men started to arrange Chemsex events based on their HIV positive status it was seen by some as a good thing, somewhere they could go and have unprotected sex and indulge in whatever they wanted with whoever was there without prejudice. Then men wanted to attend and intentionally get infected with HIV. In my previous employment I read text message evidence discussing a man who wanted to get “pozzed up”, it was and is still hard to understand the concept, as no doubt it is for many people. There are a number of reasons why men attend these parties to get intentionally infected with HIV, some for a sense of security within a certain clique while others see it as the ultimate self-harm or even sexual suicide, but these are just a couple of views of why anyone on earth would want to intentionally get infected with HIV. I was told that men would attend these events intent on carrying out specific sex acts that would or could increase the chance of contracting HIV. It became such a common thing that it wasn’t long before terms were bestowed upon the people involved. The person looking to get infected is a “bug chaser” and the man, or more often than not men were called “gift givers”. I was told that knowing you have it is better than worrying about catching it.
The illimitable availability of men on apps and willing to partake in a wide variety of sexual desires 24/7 it's inevitable that the passing of sexually transmitted diseases would take place. Its believed 1 in 8 gay men in London are HIV positive and with endless Chemsex events this should be a cause for concern. David Stuart, Substance Abuse Lead at the sexual health clinic at 56 Dean Street, Soho explains that about 3,000 gay men attending the clinic each month are using GHB, crystal meth, and mephedrone and the clinic diagnoses between 20 and 30 gay men who are regular users of these drugs, with HIV each month. He also explains that the centre estimates that it also prevents between 200 and 300 gay men from contracting HIV from chemsex each month, by prescribing PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis). PEP is a treatment which can be available through sexual health clinics and can reduce the likelihood of HIV infection after potential exposure. PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) on the other hand is taken regularly and stops people becoming infected if exposed to HIV. At present it is available in Scotland and Wales on the NHS and a trial started in England in Sept/Oct 2017 making this product available in certain sexual health clinics. The cost of this medication on the NHS in 2016 was estimated to be between 10 and 20 million pound a year. The use of PrEP and PEP is a game changer in prevention of HIV and with advancements in science hopefully HIV will become more easily managed in the future.
It is common knowledge that sex between men takes place within numerous saunas and in the back rooms or dark rooms of a number of other venues throughout certain parts of London, Manchester and Brighton. Numerous other venues throughout the cities and suburbs of the UK also hold specific events which are openly advertised for a specific clientele. The “No Strings Attached” sex is seen by some as social interaction after a night out and safer than “cruising”. The use of CCTV and security at these venues is seen as another benefit, but that does not stop sexual assaults, rapes, overdose, drug supply and many other types of crime specific to these venues and those who attend taking place. I was told non-consensual sex while someone was in a GBL induced coma is very common. The fact that a game of GBL Roulette is played would indicate that some held a psychological attraction to being used while in a catatonic state.
GBL roulette is played by any number of players, a number of shots are poured and one glass contains enough GBL to put you into a “G sleep”. All the glasses are mixed up no-one knows which is which, they are consumed and the one who goes under is used by anyone and everyone until they wake up. A number of other “party games” are also played which, on hearing the basic rules just made me wonder “Why”.
With an increase in the number of events the rise in crime being reported having taken place within a Chemsex setting was inevitable. Murder, rape, blackmail, extortion, assaults, thefts and being injected against your will while tied up in a sling are a number of incidents that I have been involved in or I know have taken place. The biggest issue men have in not wanting to report these incidents is the fact that the Police know very little about this environment and are concerned that if they explain the circumstances of the incident they feel they may be arrested, or are high at the time of reporting the crime and think that they will not be believed. Some high-profile cases for example the Stefano Brizzi and Stephen Port murders have subsequently shone a spotlight on this sexual arena and the Police are becoming more aware of the setting and attitudes appear to be changing.