“In New York City, you hop online at 3 or 4 in the morning [and] a great deal of the people online are using some kind of drug and looking to have sex on it,” James* told me. “I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was. I started having chemsex when I was 18 because it was normalized through these apps and the gay men I was meeting.”
In the gay community, chemsex (short for chemical sex) is often the elephant in the room. Also referred to as play, PnP, or parTy (T for Tina, a common nickname for crystal meth), chemsex is when someone purposefully takes drugs — usually GHB or crystal meth — to fuel sex (often for hours on end, and with more than one partner).
Chemsex parties and encounters happen everywhere, but they particularly thrive in large, queer-friendly metropolitan cities like New York, Los Angeles, and London.
I should make abundantly clear that the issue with chemsex isn’t that men are sleeping with various strangers. Exploring your sexuality with various guys can be a beautiful thing. The problems are linked to the community’s habit of slut-shaming and drug dependency, not to mention participants’ emotional and physical safety.
Take Greg. He invited a gay couple over on New Year’s Eve in 2008, before hookup apps like Grindr and Hornet swept the mainstream. They first met online, then in person to smoke meth and have sex. Things turned dark pretty quickly.
One of the men held Greg down and forced him to sniff meth while the other orally serviced him. And though Greg shouted “No!” repeatedly, both men persisted. Right as he was about to climax, one of the men sat on him, so he would finish inside him without a condom. Before this night, Greg says, he’d always used condoms during sex. After all was said and done, he asked why they kept going when it was clear he was struggling to break free. Their reply? “We thought that’s what you wanted.”
It wasn’t. Herein lies the problem with chemsex.
Consent often isn’t clearly defined among men who engage in chemsex. Various men have told me that consent is given up upon using drugs.
“When I went into these situations, I went in with the knowledge that anything goes,” says Sam.
Another man said, “When I used to parTy back in the day, I feel like I relinquished any version of ‘consent’ to Tina.”
It also seems expected that men who partake in chemsex are looking for rougher, more aggressive, sex. It’s one of the acknowledged appeals of chemsex.
“I liked having my inhibitions lowered,” Justin explained. “That’s kind of the whole point.”
Blurred rules and a lower inhibitions seem to be the precursor to many sexual assaults that occur with chemsex. That is in sharp contrast to encounters in kink or BDSM culture, where participants frequently engage in sexual negotiations that create clear rules of what is on the table or off limits. Those who engage in chemsex rarely take the same precautions. And, even if they did, would they actually follow the rules, stopping when they’re told to do so, while jacked up on meth?
Sex and drug addiction are also crucial factors. You lose track of time when you continue to parTy. Once you start, you keep using. For many guys, this creates a vicious cycle.
“I’d be up for three or four days nonstop, having sex until I literally just passed out,” Tyrone says. “I’d then sleep for hours. Then it would start back up [again the] next weekend.”
“[When] the drug was in control, I did many things that I regret,” Chris says. “The problem for me is once I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop. Some people say they can control their using and parTy occasionally, but that’s just not my experience.”
Between the normalization of hard drugs in the gay and bi men’s community and a need to connect with other men who use, for some, it feels like chemsex is inescapable.
“I mean you go to any type of gay circuit party or gay bar and there’s drugs,” Chris concludes. “And it’s like no big deal anymore. It’s scary.”
*All names have been changed for privacy.