Watching Chemsex

March 5, 2016 in General

Even from the description that Jesse Archer provided in DNA 193, the documentary Chemsex looks confrontational and urgent. It’s a fusion of eroticism and ugliness, as several attractive gay men discuss their fusion of sex and drug taking (mostly mephedrone, P/crystal meth and gamma hydroxybutyrate lactone- GBL). Detractors accuse it of engaging in “slut shaming”, “sensationalism” and note that both of the directors, Max Gogarty and Bill Farman, are straight. The documentary doesn’t hold anything back- it shows the participants injecting drugs, naked, having sex in orgies and slings and shooting up while having sex (“slamming”) as well as candidly discussing rape in this context. For adherents of the chemsex addiction, it provides them with desirability and illusory feelings of power, belied by the experiences of one former banker who is now unemployed and a sex worker due to his addiction. Another is HIV- but has unprotected sex with HIV+ chemsex addicts, resigning himself to eventually testing positive. Simon is an HIV+ HIV denialist who isn’t taking his HIV meds. By contrast, one of the more rounded, balanced and praiseworthy contrasts is David Stuart, Substance Abuse Lead at London’s 56 Dean Street LGBT drug treatment facility. It’s also good to see one sex on site venue, the Sweatbox, post signs warning against GBL use. The subculture is one of secrecy and the reviewer, Jesse Archer, asks some searching questions about recreational and responsible use of drugs as opposed to chemsex and slamming. Is it possible to responsibly use some of these drugs, however? And we all know polydrug use complicates self-management and self-control in this and other contexts. It is also sobering to read that internalised shame and homophobia is a core element in this context.

In his following interview with Gogarty and Farman, Chemsex is praised as a powerful, valuable film and one which focuses on cycles of behaviour, use and compulsion, as well as developing awareness of addiction. It is described as a hidden health emergency and the convergence of several factors- drug and polydrug potency, networking apps, effects on self-perception and interpersonal sexual behaviour and communication, and geographical redistribution of sexual contact and opportunities. Sober sex may not be achievable for those afflicted by chemsex addiction for quite some time, and HIV+ gay men may have stronger social networks than HIV- gay men in this context. At 26 Dean Street, David Stuart estimates that forty to fifty new HIV+ diagnoses occur each week. There is one particularly disturbing account of rape while under the influence, self-blaming and fetishisation of that experience in subsequent sexual encounters. We are left in no doubt that chemsex is a horrendous and burgeoning epidemic.

Source: Jesse Archer: “This World Spirals Quickly” (50-51) and “Filmmakers Max Gogarty and Bill Farman (52-53) DNA (March 2016).

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