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One-quarter of men who use 'chemsex drugs' don't use them for purposes of sex

A new study examines chemsex in Ireland and parts of the UK.

ONE-QUARTER OF men who use ‘chemsex drugs’ don’t do so for the purpose of sex, according to a study. 

More than 2,400 men from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland took party in the survey which was conducted by academics at the University of Glasgow. 

One in four of the participants – 632 men – were based in the Republic of Ireland.

Chemsex is the use of drugs such as G, crystal methamphetamine, ketamine and mephedrone to enhance sexual activity. The practice is usually associated with men who have sex with men (MSM). 

The research examined drug use in general, as well as chemsex. It also examined how many men use drugs associated with chemsex for the purpose of getting high but not engaging in sex.

Almost half (48.8%) of all participants said they had taken illicit drugs at least once, however long-term chemsex drug use was less common (18%) and far fewer men reported chemsex drug use in the last year (8.2%) or last month (3%).

Chemsex stats 

Seven in 10 (72.9%) of the men who used chemsex drugs in the last year reported using it for the purposes of sex, and over one-quarter (27.1%) said they used the drugs in a non-sexual context. 

In terms of the almost 600 participants from the Republic of Ireland, just 6% (38 overall, or about one in 17) said they had engaged in chemsex in the last year.

This figure was very similar to the percentage of men in Scotland and Wales who said they had engaged in chemsex in the last 12 months – 5.8% (66 of 1,065) and 5.9% (23 of 366) respectively. Men in Northern Ireland were more slightly likely to have engaged in chemsex in the last year – 15 of 161 (8.5%).

Of those who engaged in chemsex in the past year, one in five engaged in slamsex – where drugs are injected for a more intense high.

Respondents for the online survey were sourced from a number of gay websites including Grindr, Gaydar and Recon.

The prevalence of chemsex was found to be higher in a recent European study; one in five MSM in Ireland who responded to EMIS study said they had engaged in chemsex, compared to the European average of 15%. 

Increase in detox referrals 

Experts in Ireland have warned about the dangers of chemsex, and in particular the use of G – a highly-addictive drug that usually comes in a clear liquid form and often results in people passing out. 

There has been a 55% increase in the number of people being referred to Ireland’s only G-detoxification clinic this year, as well as an increase in the number of overdoses

“We are seeing an increasing trend of presentations with both GHB/GBL and crystal meth, or solely crystal meth, which might indicate that its use is increasing, or people are moving from sole G use towards crystal meth use,” Dr Kiran Santlal, who helped set up the detox clinic, previously told

Members of the Irish Chemsex Working Group are currently at the European Chemsex Forum in Paris. Participants at the conference are exploring the European response to chemsex and how future policy should be shaped. 

Age and sexual orientation 

The age of participants in the new survey ranged from 16 to 78, with an average age of 41. Almost all respondents (97.3%) were white, most identified as gay (81.9%), 17.2% said they were bisexual and 0.7% identified as straight. Around one in 20 (5.7%) identified as transgender.

Six in 10 respondents were single, and three in 10 said they had attended a sex party/or had group sex in the last year.

Overall, 92% were either HIV-negative or untested, and 8% said they had tested HIV positive. Half of the respondents reported taking a HIV test in the last year and over one in five (22.2%) reported taking a HIV test in the last three months.

The research, which was recently published in the Europe PubMed Central journal, is the first study of chemsex across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic. It is also the first study to distinguish chemsex drug use from its specific use within a sexual context, the researchers said.

“This paper aims to establish prevalence of the use of drugs associated with chemsex, and for the first time, the extent to which they are actually used in a sexual context, as well as determine the associated behaviours and circumstances of use,” the report notes.

It added that such data “will be of use to those planning service provision, those designing and delivering sexual health promotion and harm reduction interventions in diverse settings”.

The Explainer / SoundCloud

Want to talk about G or chemsex? Here are some of the support services available: 

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