A report commissioned by three South London boroughs into drug use during sex has highlighted significant risks to the sexual and mental health of gay and bisexual men.
Councils in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham – boroughs which have a high population of gay men – are determined to tackle the growing problems associated with ‘chemsex’.
The findings of the report, produced by experts in HIV and sexual health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, will inform the response to the problem.
Health experts have previously raised concerns that chemsex, or sex under the influence of drugs such as crystal methamphetamine, GHB/GBL and mephedrone, could be behind rising rates of HIV and STIs in gay men.
Lambeth has the highest prevalence of HIV in the UK (14 per 1,000 residents aged 15-59) and Southwark has the second highest (12 per 1,000).
Cllr Jim Dickson, Lambeth’s Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “This research provides essential insight into the complex needs of this particular at risk group of our local residents. It will enable us to work with partner organisations to find new approaches to reducing harm and to support the health and wellbeing of affected men.”
The Chemsex Study, published today, is the first research of its kind in the UK to look at the complex relationship between drug use and sexual behaviour, and documents the harms that some gay men experience.
Report lead author, Dr Adam Bourne from the Sigma Research team at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “A vulnerable section of society is using new drugs in new ways that is putting them at serious risk.
“Although our study shows that chemsex is uncommon overall, there is a need for specialist support for men who have sex under the influence of these drugs.
“Gay and bisexual men need better information and advice as well as access to gay-friendly drug and sexual health services that are able to address the psychosocial aspects of chemsex.
“We also need to work with social and sexual networking apps and websites to ensure they are supporting health promotion and harm reduction to their users.”
Researchers analysed survey data from 1,142 gay and bisexual men living in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham and conducted in-depth interviews with 30 gay men from the area. They found that although chemsex was reported to increased sexual arousal and facilitate more adventurous sex, many men were using drugs to mask self-esteem or self-confidence issues. The majority of men were not happy with their sex lives and wanted a long-term partner for more intimate and emotionally connected sex.
Around a third of men interviewed found it difficult to maintain control of their behaviour or negotiate safe sex while under the influence of drugs and had unprotected sex with high risk of HIV/STI transmission, which they regretted. Overdosing, panic attacks, convulsions and sexual assault were all associated with chemsex. Many men also felt that the large amount of time they spent engaging in chemsex was detrimental to their social relationships and career progression.
Public Health England has raised concerns about rising HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in men who have sex with men. The forthcoming Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham HIV and Sexual Health Strategy addresses these issues and sets the strategic direction for improving the sexual health of local people.
The Chemsex Study’s key recommendations include the production of resources that provide drug harm reduction information, access to gay-friendly drug and sexual health services that understand the issues around chemsex, co-ordinated work with managers of commercial sex-on-premises venues to develop harm reduction policies and procedures and engagement with commercial companies and gay media / apps to provide harm reduction as part of a corporate responsibility to their users.
• For interviews with Cllr Jim Dickson please contact Lawrence Conway, Head of Media at London Borough of Lambeth on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7926 0474.
•For further information or to request interviews with the report’s lead author Dr Adam Bourne, please contact Katie Steels at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine press office on email@example.com or 0207 927 2802 / 07714138401.
• Adam Bourne, David Reid, Ford Hickson, Sergio Torres Rueda, Peter Weatherburn. The Chemsex Study: drug use in sexual settings among gay and bisexual men in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham. Sigma Research, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
(A full copy of the report is available at http://www.sigmaresearch.org.uk/chemsex)
• The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a world-leading centre for research and postgraduate education in public and global health, with 3,900 students and more than 1,000 staff working in over 100 countries. The School is one of the highest-rated research institutions in the UK, and was recently cited as the world’s leading research-focused graduate school. Our mission is to improve health and health equity in the UK and worldwide; working in partnership to achieve excellence in public and global health research, education and translation of knowledge into policy and practice. http://www.lshtm.ac.uk
•Sigma Research is a social research group specialising in the social, behavioural and policy aspects of HIV and sexual health. It is part of the Faculty of Public Health and Policy at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. http://www.sigmaresearch.org.uk.