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What You Need To Know About ChemSex: Substance Abuse & Condom Use

It is no secret amongst MSM individuals that condom use is not common.

This is evident in the HIV infection of MSM (men who have sex with men) in the country. This is also shown in the roadshows I have been on where majority of MSM I engaged with, confessed to not regularly using condoms and not being on PrEP.

Their main reason was that when they are intoxicated, they tend to engage in risky sexual behaviour. ChemSex is the term used for this behaviour, it is sexual activity engaged in while under the influence of stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine or mephedrone, typically involving several participants. Usually, people do it to change the physical sensations they have during sex to change their psychological experiences increasing their confidence.

Higher rates of substance use have been associated with unsafe sex behaviour. Individuals have admitted to not using condoms when using certain drugs such as alcohol and poppers, some simply forgot or because they were in the heat of the moment. Crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth) is one of the more common drugs that is used during ChemSex and often its users confess to using it to last longer in bed or to enhance physical sensations.

The risks associated with ChemSex include:

  • If you’re living with HIV, you might forget to take your HIV medication, which helps keeps you undetectable and prevents you from passing HIV onto your partners.
  • Forgetting to take your PrEP or using any form of protection to enhance physical sensation
  • Having an uncomfortable high: drugs used in ChemSex can change how you feel and if you are not used to them, you may react to them in way that could potentially even lead to hospitalisation.
  • Feelings of depression: like with any mood-altering substances, the comedown includes heavy feelings of depression and this may be horrible for individuals who are already suffering from depression.
  • You may have sex with strangers (such as people you’ve hooked up with through social media or dating sites) and you may have sex with multiple partners. This increases your chances of exposure to HIV and other STIs.

How can you reduce the risks of chemsex?
If you do plan on participating in chemsex, these tips might help reduce your risks.

  • Always have protection – make sure you always pack lots of condoms and lube. Also, consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Speak to one of our Yellow Dot Doctors about how you can get on PrEP.
  • Know your status –Regular testing to check your status and to screen for other STIs will help to keep you and others healthy.
  • Set your limits – before you get drunk or high, decide what you are prepared to do sexually and talk about which methods of protection you want to use.
  • Set reminders – if you’re taking PrEP to prevent HIV or need to take anti-HIV medication because you are living with HIV, use an alarm to make sure you take your pills at the right time.

There is support for individuals who are into ChemSex particularly users/ones who inject, where they can speak to their healthcare providers for more information. Speak to your Yellow Dot Doctor today to find out how you can stay protected.

Phumlani Kango is a contributing writer for the Anova Health Institute and these are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.