As a gay man, chemsex was the ultimate high. It was a confidence booster and the sex was fantastic. But ultimately it left me feeling fake, empty and out of control.
After I came out, I quickly got into a long relationship in my early 20s. When that ended, years later, I was single and ready to mingle – and that I did! I’d done drugs on the odd occasion before but being out on the town introduced me to kat and cocaine as a standard part of socialising and relationships. Everyone was doing it.
Funnily enough, I never paid for the drugs. My friends always had and always shared. That made me feel better. If I didn’t actually get the stuff, or have the dealer’s number, then I was somehow a little superior to them. In any case, I happily joined in and it became my modus operandi every single weekend.
This, of course, extended into the bedroom. In fact, that was the best part – and became one of the main reasons for taking drugs. After a night and morning staying up socialising, things inevitably ended in sex. And it was great. I’d always felt self conscious growing up as gay kid: I was socially awkward and I lacked confidence when it came to the physical side of things. The drugs, however, made me and my partners confident and super horny – and pretty much anything went.
I was thankfully safe almost every time I had sex, but most of my partners did so begrudgingly. And it wasn’t always easy to be safe: when I was wired the future wasn’t important – just the here and now. The excitement and thrill overwhelmed everything. It was all about the intensity, the connection and feeling like a porn star. I know that many of my friends didn’t bother with condoms.
When I got into a couple of relationships, they were with fellow users and the sex almost always included lines of kat throughout. There were threesomes a few times with guys we connected with online.
After a couple of years, things began to change. One of my friends spiralled out of control and lost everything: his business, his relationship, his family. A few came out as HIV positive. My relationship began suffering and the good times started to get… well, boring. I noticed that we had the same conversations over and over. The intense connections I made – whether they were sexual or intellectual – were not real. They were of the moment and they didn’t have substance.
I realised that my friends started getting increasingly paranoid and frankly… annoying. They seemed so cool once… but not anymore. All we talked about were drug experiences and we couldn’t get together without snorting something. The sex felt empty afterwards and the interactions were hollow. My partner at the time started becoming increasingly unstable and I wanted out.
Over the space of a year I cut back on my use and stopped hanging around people who continued to do the drugs. My life and priorities have now changed. I’m no longer in the party scene and I don’t want to be. I’ve moved on (although others I know haven’t).
Do I regret what I did? In some ways no – I had experiences I won’t ever forget and I got to live the life of clubbing, late nights, house after-parties, interesting people and yes – crazy and amazing sex. At the same time, I lost friends, had to deal with a lot of baggage and it has still affected my sex life to some degree. It’s hard (ahem) for me to get down without at least being drunk on alcohol, for example. It’s not easy to end that connection between a high of some kind and sex. And I resent that. Writing this I can’t help but wonder – how would my life have looked if I hadn’t started using? Perhaps better, perhaps worse – but definitely different.
What is Chemsex?
Chemsex is the use of drugs, such as crystal meth, GHB or kat, before or during sex to heighten the experience .The drugs can be taken in all kinds of ways, including snorting and injecting. Chemsex is believed to be especially common among men who have sex with men and is in turn linked to the culture of online hookups and having multiple partners. There is not much information in South Africa about this but according to a 2013/2014 survey in England and Wales, 33% of gay or bisexual men took illicit drugs compared to 11.1% of other men.
Why is it more common among men who have sex with men?
It may be linked to the social stigma around men being attracted to other men. As we grow up, we often have to hide who we are and are told that what we feel is wrong. That can lead to feelings of shame, inadequacy and social awkwardness. Drugs help us feel more confident and disinhibited when it comes to meeting partners and having sex. Through sex we may feel validated and powerful in a society that may not always treat us as such.
What are the risks?
There are obvious risks associated with recreational drug use. These include potential damage to our physical health (such as heart and blood pressure problem, and even death) and mental health (including paranoia, depression, anxiety and aggression). But there are others, linked to the disinhibiting effect of the drugs and heightening of sexual feelings. These can impact on the decisions we make at the time and may lead us to have unprotected sex, often with multiple partners, or to share needles. That in turn greatly increases the risk of contracting HIV and STIs.
What can I do?
Whatever you choose to do, always protect yourself: Carry condoms (such as Max condoms) and water-based lube with you – and use them every-time you have sex. Also, if chemsex and multiple partners are a reality in your life, and you are HIV negative, consider using PrEP: a daily pill that prevents HIV infection. Using a combination of PrEP and condoms and lube will keep you protected from HIV and STIs. If you are concerned about your drug use, get help (call the 24 hour Substance Abuse Helpline on 0800 12 13 14).
For man-to-man friendly info on getting free PrEP, condoms and lube, and testing and treatment, contact the Ivan Toms Centre for Men’s Health in Cape Town (021 447 2844), Health4Men at Yeoville clinic in Johannesburg (011 648 7979 or 072 654 0816) or OUT’s TEN81 clinic in Pretoria (012 430 3272). For more information on healthy lifestyles, visit the PHILA website.