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Chemsex: Party & play; do it & die - (9/24/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Business in the pharmacy was slow that afternoon. The technician was busy putting the day’s order away. Meanwhile, the pharmacist was flipping through one of his medical journals. He stopped at an article entitled “Chemsex fueling HIV epidemic, experts warn.” The pharmacist had never heard the word “Chemsex.” But if it is causing a spike in the rate at which human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) spreads – the virus that results in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) – then he needs to be a responsible healthcare professional and educate himself to this latest trend. 

Chemsex – also called Party and Play, or PnP – is the consumption of drugs to facilitate or enhance sexual activity. Sociologically, it refers to a subculture of recreational drug users who engage in high-risk sexual activities under the influence of drugs. This can exclude the use of condoms during sessions with multiple sexual partners that may continue for days. “People have been taking drugs and having sex for years – that’s nothing new,” thought the pharmacist. A toke or two, or a glass of a buttery chardonnay, can put one in the mood. However, we are not talking about a romantic Valentine’s Day with one’s loving partner. 

Rather, this is about posting a personal ad on social media, even on dating apps, to alert the public to an open-door sex orgy – maybe in a hotel room – whereby high concentrations of drugs such as methamphetamine – known as crystal meth, tina, or T – are served. Other drugs are also used. GHB or gamma-hydroxybutyrate is used as a “club drug” or “date rape” drug. GHB is abused by teens and young adults at bars, parties, clubs and “raves,” and is often placed in one’s cocktail. People like GHB because it increases euphoria, increased sex drive, and serenity. However, the downside is sweating, loss of consciousness, nausea, hallucinations, amnesia, and coma. Fun/not fun.

The pharmacist was surprised that the PnP scene was not confined to younger people who believe they are invincible. The main chemsex demographic sociologists are seeing are people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond as well as educated, professional people. The chemsex scene started with gay men, bisexual men, and men who have sex with men (MSM). Now, women are experiencing chemsex. As people age, they often throw off the trappings of youth — and one common trapping of youth is a compromise of normative ideas regarding sexual behavior. It may be that chemsex is an artifact of people growing past ideas about what sex “should” be like (i.e. 1-on-1) instead of sexual exploration (i.e. 1-on-?). Despite how one feels about group sex, the idea that mature women now participate in chemsex parties shows a move away from antiquated ideas about what women’s sexualities should be — and that is new.

Murders, rapes, and even cannibalism have occurred at chemsex parties. One “host” invited a British police officer to his chemsex party where he was killed, dismembered, and eaten. Good times! Also troubling is the heightened rate of HIV transmission at such events. A 2018 study found that of almost 750 HIV-positive men surveyed, 60% reported having unprotected anal sex and 62% had been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection. Rates of infections and high-risk sexual behavior were higher among the 30% who reported having engaged in chemsex. Thus, one way or another, you can die.

The pharmacist has a strict “live and let live” attitude. Nevertheless, he believes singer George Michael said it best: “Sex is natural, sex is fun, sex is best when it’s one on one.” 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. 

 


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