In 2018, our Observatory published a brief news article, entitled “Chemsex on the rise among homosexuals. How will it affect public health?”. The piece, which was based on a BMJ report, concluded that, “Various authors have called for chemsex to become a public health priority. There are various reasons for this, including the possible link with HIV and other sexually transmitted infection (STI) transmission, the physical and mental health effects of the drugs used in chemsex sessions, […]” (see HERE). New studies have since been conducted, and today it is thought to be one of the main factors contributing to the increasing spread of STIs, HIV and mental health disorders in European countries and the United States.
The current situation in Western countries is the growing phenomenon of so-called chemsex parties, where people spend days getting high on drugs and having sex with scores of partners. Dissemination of this practice is promoted through the Internet and offered by bars, nightclubs, etc., especially those frequented by persons who practice same-sex sexual relations.
Chemsex, also known as “getting high and horny” and “party and play”, has become a strong trend in Western countries, but there is scant information on the issue as a global trend. Studies have been carried out in Vienna, Hong Kong, some states in the USA and one report in Spain. Much of the research has been focused on the LGBT community, who appear to be more affected by this practice.
A systematic review of the literature published last year on chemsex among men who have sex with men (MSM) reported the following:
“The search identified 2492 publications, of which 38 were included in the final synthesis. There were wide variations in chemsex prevalence estimates due to the heterogeneous sampling in the studies. Chemsex participants have expectations that the drugs will positively affect their sexual encounters and HIV positive MSM are more likely to engage in the behavior than HIV negative MSM […] Participants were more likely to engage in condomless anal intercourse than men who do not engage in chemsex. This may increase the risk of transmission for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”
An urgent need for counseling
The article concluded, “Our study shows that almost one in four MSM practicing chemsex expressed a need for professional counseling on chemsex-related issues. STI healthcare providers should assess the need for professional counseling in MSM practicing chemsex, especially in MSM with the above-mentioned characteristics, such as frequent users.” (International Journal of Drug Policy, January 2019).
In cities across Europe, HIV is spreading rapidly among men who have sex with men
Health News (Reuters) has reported that, “Despite much higher risks of contracting the virus that causes AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), users search online ‘hook-up’ apps like Grindr for tags such as ‘high and horny’ or ‘party and play’ to find others wanting drug-heightened and often anonymous and unprotected sex.”
“The result AIDS experts say, is that in cities across Europe, HIV is spreading rapidly among men who have sex with men – leading to concentrated epidemics in hard-to-reach groups.”
“’Chemsex is very pervasive now – it’s a growing phenomenon,’” said Rusi Jaspal, a professor of psychology and sexual health at De Montfort University in the British city of Leicester who has been studying the spread of HIV and the chemsex scene.”
“At a London conference hosted by the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC), the group’s president Jose Zuniga described chemsex as a ‘challenge of proportions we cannot fully comprehend at this time’.”
The aforementioned article also reports the health risk and global aspect of the phenomenon: “Ignacio Labayen de Inza, a chemsex specialist who works at several UK clinics and online as a counselor for men seeking help, says ‘things have got much worse’.”
“It’s not just a UK thing,” he told Reuters during the IAPAC conference. ‘It’s in Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Rome, Kiev, Moscow, Helsinki – and in many of what people call ‘gay destinations’, like (Spain’s) Ibiza, Torremolinos, the Canary Islands.’” (Reuters SEPTEMBER 12, 2019).
Chemsex in Spain
In this respect, the website of the Spanish Ministry of Health has a page dedicated to chemsex and its risks. There are also several related sites (read one example HERE). Furthermore, the Spanish Ministry has also published a “Report on Chemsex in Spain” by the National AIDS Plan. The extensive report cites different international studies on the subject, and includes a study in Spain, but only in the LGBT population. The authors concluded what has been said in most studies: “The heterogeneity of the samples and the different criteria regarding the definition of chemsex make it difficult to compare study results.”
There seems to be no clear strategy to stop the escalation of this dangerous international trend and its rapid spread via the internet; furthermore, easy access to many of the drugs related to this practice makes its containment and prevention more difficult. It is an issue that affects public health and society, causing an increase in STIs and HIV in developed countries. Most of the studies concluded that more studies and new strategies are needed.
Related scientific article explaining the different types of chemsex in Spain (Science Direct, August 2020 HERE)