Text last updated 2 September 2017
Links last updated 20 January 2018


Rehab Reviews | Uncredited | 15398


What this page is about

Chem is short for “chemsex”, and is having (sometimes group) sex under the influence of drugs.

It is of concern because of the health and personal risks faced by the users of dangerous chemicals. It has become popular on the younger gay scene, and is associated with the use of smart phones to arrange sex parties. Some of the chemicals used in chem were never intended to be consumed by humans. One popular recreational drug in current use is made by mixing floor stripper and drain cleaner.

These chemicals induce euphoria and reduce inhibitions to such an extent that the user may be unaware of who they’re having sex with, or whether that sex is safe.

The risks are obvious but reliable statistics are only just becoming available. One London sexual-health clinic estimate that 3,000 gay men who use recreational drugs in sexual contexts attend their clinic each month.

A study at Imperial College London found the number of deaths caused GHB spiked by 119 per cent in London between 2014 and 2015. One person was dying every 12 days from GHB in the capital during that time.

A study commissioned by three south London boroughs in 2014 found that three out of four gay men who had attended chemsex parties had engaged in unprotected sex, with a potentially high risk of passing on the HIV virus.

Users who misjudge their dose or mix it with alcohol risk going into a coma or death. Although most deaths related to chem are recorded as heart failure or other form of bodily malfunction, in the past five years a handful of deaths have been attributed to these drugs. The death of three men in London’s Pleasuredrome sauna in 2012 was attributed to chem.

The Home Office published its updated drug strategy in July 2017, at a time of a sharp rise in drug-related deaths despite falling levels of use.

It targets psychoactive substances (formerly known as legal highs), performance-enhancing drugs including “chemsex” substances, and the misuse of prescription medicines.

There is a shift away from an “abstinence-only” approach to drug treatment and a return to an emphasis on harm-reduction and recovery.

203,800 people in England and Wales received treatment for drug misuse in 2015-16; fewer drug users were coming into treatment. The number entering treatment under 25, particularly for heroin use, has fallen substantially in the last 10 years.

Gay Activists need to

Understand what chem is and the risks involved,

Raise awareness of the issues and risks,

Work with the usual agencies in preventing more deaths from chem,

Make information available to users and potential users of chem,

Devise strategies for dealing with this issue.

There are links to further articles and studies into the use of Chem in the gay community.

Home Pages

The Steve Retson Project: Chem sex
Sigma: South London Chem Research Project
The After Party Service


Independent, 17 October 2015: The rise of gay ‘chemsex’ parties involving libido-enhancing drugs
Rehab Reviews, June 11 2014: Chem-Sex: Europe’s Synthetic Madness
Guardian, 7 November 2015: NHS Urged to respond to growing dangers of chemsex
The Guardian, 10 November 2015: Chemsex panic
Birmingham Mail, 20 January 2016: I used poppers says Michael Fabricant MP
The Guardian, 20 January 2016: Crispin Blunt MP Outs Himself as a Poppers User
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, April 2016: Report on Chemsex
Gay News Network, 25 Oct 2016: Expert says reports on chemsex are sensationalised
Attitude, 13 October 2016: Five Guys Chillin brings the highs and lows of chemsex to the stage
CNN, 24 Nov 2016: Stephen Port serial killer investigation
Guardian, 14 July 2017: Chemsex drugs and former legal highs targeted by Home Office
Independent, 2 September 2017: Something for the weekend: James Wharton
Daily Mail, 12 December 2017: Gay man who enjoyed chemsex parties develops agonising arthritis triggered by an STI he caught through unprotected sex

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