Sex and drugs and rompers polled: ‘chemsex’ craze ‘sweeping Britain’

A craze for drugs fuelled sex sessions is sweeping Britain – putting health at risk, warns new research.

People in the UK are more likely to use booze, cannabis, cocaine or ecstasy to boost their performance than those in the US, Europe, Australia and Canada, according to the study.

Known as ‘chemsex’ it usually involves taking a cocktail of drugs – often prolonging sex – rather than the other way around.

The trend has taken off in the last decade due to the rising use of particular drugs – along with the boom in hook-up apps.

It raises the risk of sexually transmitted infections, like HIV and hepatitis C. It’s thought the drugs can make people who usually use condoms feel less inhibited and have unprotected sex.

As part of the Global Drug Survey, roughly 22,000 people responded to online questions about which drugs they used in combination with sex.

They were also asked if they used drugs to specifically enhance their sexual experience – and how they affected it.

Alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine were most commonly used – with ectsasy rated most favourably along with GHB and GBL.

Ecstasy increased ’emotionality and intimacy’ the most while GHB and GBL were best for raising ‘sexual desire’.

And many more heterosexuals are indulging than was previously thought, say scientists.

Lead author Dr Will Lawn, a psychologist at University College London (UCL), said: “While using drugs in combination with and to specifically enhance the sexual experience tends to be associated with gay and bisexual men, we found that in our sample, men and women of all sexual orientations engaged in this behaviour. However, differences between groups did emerge.

“Harm reduction messages relating to substance-linked sex in general should therefore not only be targeted towards gay and bisexual men, as they are relevant to all groups.”

People of all genders and sexual orientations reported engaging in substance-linked sex – but gay and bisexual men were more likely to have done so.

Gay men were 60 percent more likely than their heterosexual peers to have used drugs with the specific intent of enhancing the sexual experience in the last year.

Drugs typically considered as ‘chemsex’ drugs – methamphetamine, mephedrone and GHB/GBL – were more commonly used by gay and bisexual men in combination with sex.This highlights the continued need for certain targeted harm reduction messages, said the researchers.

As the survey respondents were self-selecting rather than a representative sample, their estimates of prevalence will be substantially larger than the general population. But relative differences between groups are expected to be reliable.

While country of residence was not asked specifically, currency was used as a proxy.
This revealed that those from the UK were more likely to have combined all drugs, except for cannabis, with sex – especially mephedrone.

The researchers say understanding how and why people use drugs is essential if we are to deliver harm reduction messages that are in touch with peoples’ lived experience.

Dr Lawn said: “By engaging with your audience and accepting that drugs provide pleasure as well as harms, you can deliver harm reduction messages in a more trustworthy and nuanced manner.”

Experts have said the trend should be a public health priority due to increased HIV risk.

Senior author Professor Adam Winstock, founder and director of the Global Drug Survey, said: “Our study is by far the largest to date to investigate the relationships between sex and drugs.

“Previous studies have rarely compared men and women, and people of different sexual orientations.

“Furthermore, by appreciating how different drugs affect sex we can tailor our harm reduction messages. These pragmatic messages can save lives.”

By Ben Gelblum and Mark Waghorn



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