The Chemsex Conundrum: Investigating Fetish, Kink, & Drugs

Editor’s Note: This article has depictions of drug abuse.

All photos by Carlos Victimo

My first consent encounter in London with certain Class A drugs – those considered by Parliament to be the most harmful, was in 2018. Returning from Mexico, after recovering from being spiked. 

Having finished university for the year, I was looking for some cannabis to calm my anxiety. On Grindr, I met an older man in his late 40s. Despite my refusals and insistence that I did not wish to try anything else, he produced a meth bong. He blew into my face and everywhere until the room looked like we were in the middle of a cloud. Then, in my barely conscious state, he gave me G – GHB or Gamma-hydroxybutyrate –  one of the most common and risky drugs found in a chill out.  That night, I experienced an overdose and ended up in the ER.

My experience lined up with reports from the 2019 “Sex, Drugs and Murder” by Patrick Strudwick. Strudwick tided, of the 2,700 men surveyed, two thirds expressed they’d had significant problems with G, such as addiction, overdosing or sexual assault. Almost half had overdosed, and eighty percent knew someone who had been assaulted on G.  

I was not going to let this abusive experience break me. Instead, I decided to turn that pain into purpose and grasp the intricacies of chemsex culture. My first endeavour being: to grasp the elusive chillout.

Close-up of Domino's nose, lips, neck, and upper chest. He wears a white shirt. Water drips from his face to  chest.

For me, chillouts – an active chemsex party – are chameleons, their character largely unexplainable. They can keep going for days and days, with participants jumping from one chill-out to another. 

When the sessions are a long-runner, the participants generally take smoking breaks or go to different parts of the house/room where no sex is happening. Before the psychosis hits, causing participants to become more HH (high and horny) – there are generally moments of deep conversation. You see both sides of participants, the emotional and the beast.

With chill-outs, the rule generally goes the more, the merrier. Invitations to people over different apps depart. Statements of preference fly – “2 XL BTMS seeking Dom Top HH”, “Group Sex Now”, “Very open-minded looking for a party.”

At a chill-out, you will find dealers, sex workers, civil servants – anyone and everyone meeting after midnight, at 3 am, 5 am, trading anything they can to keep the party going – their bodies, an erection, flesh to eat, a space to sleep, food, money, drugs or party tricks. All are welcome before dawn.

. . . 

I met Jason Domino, an advocate of the rights of UK sex workers, for the first time at the 22nd Sexual Freedom Awards celebrated in London last April, where he was a judge. 

Domino, founder of Porn4PrEP and The Good Porn Project, educates the masses on the existence and effectiveness of PrEP and U=U along with other sexual health measures such as the HPV, Hep A & B Vaccinations, test window periods – and more. His most recent work as Sexual Health and Wellbeing Lead for SNAP Together connects the UK’s Adult Industry and provides all adult workers with quality support, education and advice.  

Domino is also a part of SWARM – Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement – a sex worker collective based in the UK advocating for the rights of everyone who sells sexual services. 

During our lunch, Domino speaks of David Stuart, the late queer activist, lecturer, therapist and addiction specialist who is credited with developing the concept of chemsex – his theory that kindness is our north star, “So when your decisions are in doubt, you know which way to go. Moving with kindness influences how we help people and whether or not we are effective in that aid. 

Aiding folks who are struggling is not that complicated – it is about kindness, sharing and giving people space and time. Most of the time, the media use a lot of shame and blame.. Learning about the chilled-out community and weaponizing that knowledge is not helping.

Domino vouches for the decriminalisation of drugs as how we should move forward, I find myself agreeing.

Domino bites his lip and crouches with his legs wide open, his hands resting on his thighs. He is wearing a red Speedo and an unzipped hoodie, revealing his chest tattoo.

Presently, 30 countries have adopted drug decriminalisation – to some extent. Each endeavouring has had significant differences and levels of effectiveness. A brief, non-exhaustive timeline: 

1986: The first drug consumption room is built in Bern, Switzerland.

2000: Putting human rights at the heart of drug policy and adopting an approach focused on public health rather than public-order priorities, Portugal decriminalises the public and private use, acquisition, and possession of all drugs. Consequently, rates of drug use in Portugal have remained below the EU average over the past two decades.

2016:  France’s first “shooting gallery” opens in Paris – a safe place where drug addicts can inject under medical supervision – so far, another one has been set up in Strasbourg.

Presently: In England, around 3 million people take drugs, with drug-related deaths being the highest on record at nearly 3,000 a year. In the last decade, heroin-related deaths have more than doubled, and cocaine-related deaths have grown fivefold. The situation in Scotland is even worse – now the drug death capital of Europe. The Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care have commissioned a two-part independent review of drugs, to inform the government’s thinking on how they may better tackle the harm that drugs cause.

. . . 

It is significant to consider that the chemsex culture is remarkably queer. It is a form of self-expression, one often perceived as dangerous – which though it is, for our consistently marginalised community, mainstream disapproval is likely part of the pleasure. Being queer in the cisheteronormative minority world is a general drain. The seeking of release is not abnormal. Yet, the uncritical criminalisation of drug usage makes this epicurean yearning for social acquittal a dangerous endeavour. Shaming struggling drug users does not aid them. We should strive to grasp what they are doing and why, provide safe spaces for it  – and then work from there.

Colour picture, close-up of Jason Domino’s nose and open mouth, Domino's extended tongue holds a PrEP pill, about to be swallowed.

 With this, it is significant to consider the impact of neurodiversity. People self-medicate to deal with anxiety, or if someone has ADHD and lacks dopamine releases – the high can become irresistible. We are, of course, susceptible to developing habits to cope with  chemical imbalances. We crave a time without paying attention to any of those feelings.

In a neoliberal society, we are in constant competition. In such an environment, there is a drive not only for folks to find success but to cultivate a life parallel and wholly disconnected from that they share with friends and family – this might look like five days a week of work and a chemsex sex party across the weekend. During chem-sex, folks can halt negative feelings, or any – for that matter. It is straight to intimacy because – ultimately – it is about being intimate, even if it is artificial intimacy near-instantly forgotten.

. . . 

Researching the fetish and kink community in London, I met the goodies and the bad, Gods and Man-sters, and just as Lana del Rey describes in one of her songs, some angels looking to get fucked hard. I have fractured memories of my last chillout. “Territory” by The Blaze is playing, lights oscillating, blues and crimson. My vision is foggy, I’m dizzy, aware of the seemingly eternal porn playlist adorning our environment. One person, however, who sticks out in my mind is Charlie.

Charlie and I met on Grindr and connected immediately. At the time, he was homeless and had been on a bender for the past five days – as far as he can remember. “I use it (chillouts) as a form of therapy,” Charlie confessed. As he told me more of his story, my heart broke. I felt empathy and offered him a place to stay. I wanted to help and understand more about the abuse of these chemical substances. 

The relationship I was creating with Charlie was quick and passionate. It got disrupted by the chaos of society, by the noise and the speed of everyday life in a big busy city that sometimes does not allow you to take a breath and continue. 

I have not seen, heard or known anything for almost a couple of months. With our last chat having been ominous, I’m scared to find out something has happened. Moreso, I am angry he cannot get the help he needs

We lack understanding of chem-sex and chill-out culture. There is not enough data available or studies accessible to fully comprehend the causes and effects of the different types of users. There’s a need for knowledge!

For me, this article is an attempt to spotlight an issue in my community. 

I crave for people to get informed and prevent any harm. I advocate putting our mental health and wellbeing first. Remember to be kind to yourself and everyone else.

Irving Olvera


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