Gay men can find it very difficult to seek help when ‘chemsex’ becomes addictive. Leon Knoops explored the issue at Hit Hot Topics.
Chemsex is the name for combining drugs with sex. Gay men use drugs twice as much as straight men and a part of the dating app culture is to order drugs and find sex parties.
The list of substances being used has grown and a new trend is smoking crack during sex. The crystal meth in circulation is the strongest available on the European drugs market and it’s taken by slamming – injecting drugs before or during sex.
In 2014 I started to interview people who had experience and found that a lot of guys had issues – abscesses, blue spots, sharing needles, and many were experiencing mental health issues and sleeping problems.
Many were finding they were unable to have sex without drugs, and more and more men were losing control. Some were losing their houses and belongings, and even contemplating suicide.
It’s not done to talk to your friends about this because of the stigma, and there’s not enough information or expertise. So at Mainline we set up chemsex meetings and training for professionals, including STI nurses and consultants. There wasn’t enough cooperation initially, so we set up a roundtable that meets twice a year to discuss Interventions around chemsex.
The way to connect with those who need help is to use slang and be curious. Don’t have judgement but show support – there can be many underlying issues such as loneliness. Let’s work together to improve the situation.
‘I felt the connection and couldn’t stop’
I had a great job, working for an airline in Holland. I had a lovely partner, my husband. I earned a lot of money and had several apartments.
But something went wrong – there were cracks in our relationship. I decided to end it and fled to an apartment in Sitges. At 53, I felt overdue on the gay scene, but it was easy to install the dating apps. I met a guy in Barcelona – a man smoking a pipe. He gave it me to try and I thought it was part of the game.
The effects hit my body and before I knew I had had sex for four days and three nights. I thought holy shit, what is this? And I loved it. But I was worried it would cost me my job – we were not allowed to fly with any substances in our bodies. I had to fly to Toronto, so I thought I’d see if they have the same there – and they did. It was the beginning of my world tour.
I felt the connection and I started smoking crystal meth. Then I was offered injecting and didn’t at first – but when I started slamming, the rush I felt was incredible. I wanted more sex, more guys, I wanted it to go on forever.
But as I came down I had severe depression. My weight went down. I was looking for information, but all I could find was American sites with all those pics of crystal meth users, and I thought ‘that’s not me’.
So I kept going and met other guys, and I enjoyed the connection. When my mother died, I was partying in Toronto. I was raped and I thought that was part of it. I couldn’t go to the police and tell them I’d been taking crystal meth. A lot of people tried to help me, but I didn’t want to help myself because I was so into the connection with those guys.
But I was pulled over in Amsterdam and found with drugs. I found myself in jail.
I went to 12-step groups and to addiction counselling. What I was looking for was for people to listen to me, know what I was going through and not judge me. People were judging me because I was part of the gay chemsex scene.
My mission now at Mainline is to find people and help them. I won’t judge them – I already judged myself.
Leon Knoops and Sjef Pelsser are members of the Mainline chemsex team, based in the Netherlands with projects at home and abroad. Their website is a valuable resource at https://english.mainline.nl
Photography by nigelbrunsdon.com