A Spanish HIV/AIDS organization has launched a colorful video campaign meditating on queer men’s chemsex experiences and their pursuit of support.
The project, titled Campaña de Prevención de Chemsex (Campaign for Chemsex Prevention), is a three-part video series in deep red, blue and white tones, respectively. Created by the service organization Stop Sida (“Sida” being the Spanish term for AIDS), it drew from the voices of men who participate in or were formerly involved with chemsex.
The campaign hopes to “publicize the phenomenon of chemsex both within and outside the LGBT + community, and an element that seemed important to us is that it was through our own real testimonials,” Rubén Mora, a manager at Stop Sida, told Filter. “The message of the campaign is to express their experiences with chemsex and how they feel about them; to understand what they look after in pleasure and to learn how to deal with it.”
The first video is titled “SEX” and reflects (in red tones) on the experience of using drugs in queer sex scenes. The second, “CHEM,” presents (in blue) issues that may arise.
Coined by London-based social worker David Stuart, “chemsex” refers to queer sex mediated by digital platforms and involving the particular drugs of methamphetamine, GHB, mephedrone and ketamine.
While gay men, like many groups, have been using drugs during sex for quite some time, chemsex as a phrase is used to describe the particular practices that took shape with the rise of geo-location sex apps, like Grindr. Beginning in the 2010s, an aging gay male community traumatized by the late-twentieth century AIDS crisis, and the growing social isolation produced by neoliberal policies and cultures in European metropolitan centers, gave rise to the phenomenon.
Drug use is more common among gay men than in the overall population, and at least one February 2018 study has shown that a majority of studied Barcelona men who have sex with men used any substance during sex, with alcohol being the most common. Almost 20 percent of study participants either used during sex “party drugs” ( MDMA, cocaine, and amphetamines) and “chemsex drugs” (methamphetamine, GHB/GBL, ketamine, mephedrone), the latter of which were less frequently used.
Despite that study’s “party” and “chemsex” distinction, other researchers have included the former category within latter. And in such studies, they found chemsexeurs are more likely to experience health burdens than their peers who do not participate in sexualized drug use. Surveyed HIV-positive chemsex participants in Madrid were more likely to be diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections (like syphilis) and others infections (like hepatitis C) according to a different March 2018 journal article.
A 2019 study, analyzing the data used in the March 2018 study, also found chemsexeurs, especially those who injected drugs (a practice known as “slamsex,” usually involving crystal meth), were more likely to be burdened by mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts and paranoia. Slamsex is growing in Madrid, according to the HIV/AIDS organization Apoyo Positivo, and with it, the risks of its attendant harms, like abscesses, disease transmission and overamping.
The third video, titled “SUPPORT” and stylized in white, holds space for men’s experiences with seeking support. Unlike the United States, Spain has a number of robust public health programs supporting chemsexeurs, as participants are sometimes called. Madrid’s Apoyo Positivo offers a wide range of harm reduction and recovery services, and stands out as a model for other European programs. Likewise, Barcelona’s Stop Sida hosts an informational website and provides similarly comprehensive services.
“We hope that more people know how we have experienced this phenomenon and that the people who feel identified and questioned by our testimonies will make it easy to ask us for information and support,” said Mora.
Videos by Stop Sida