Back in the 1980s, they called it sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Now they use the name “chemsex”, contraction of “chemical” with “sex” (sex). Rock’n’roll is no longer a fundamental part of the formula, and history has become a recreational practice that, occasionally, makes couples and groups extend their sex for an entire weekend. Or for Monday, for Tuesday, for Wednesday…
Does the use of the term include a marijuana cigarette and an after-hours quickie? Not quite. Chemsex tends to go further. Today, it has been stimulated by the growth of circulating methamphetamine, also known as crystal (pronounced “crystal”) or tub.
Also entering the game are cocaine, GHB (also called liquid ecstasy) and MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy. They are stronger drugs and, in the context of sex parties or even in the sexual marathons of couples, they end up generating health risks, whether among straights or gays.
Chemsex is more associated with the LGBTQIA+ universe, although having sex under the influence of psychoactive substances happens among all groups. For Álvaro Sousa, a doctor of science from USP who published a study on chemsex in the pandemic in Brazil and Portugal, the practice is discussed and negotiated more openly among gays, but it is also not uncommon among heterosexuals.
Psychiatrist Camila Magalhães, on the other hand, sees an association between the use of this type of drug and the culture of gay parties and clubs. “Among straights, the search for disinhibition for sexual encounters is more based on alcohol,” says she, who is also the founder of Caliandra Saúde Mental.
One of the risks of chemsex is addiction. THE sheet heard from several practitioners of the sport that at some point they realized they had developed chemical and psychological dependence. And that when there wasn’t one more substance, sex had become dull.
“Nowadays I’m abstaining from sex. When I masturbate, I try to imagine that I’m crazy about MDMA. If I can’t imagine the effect of MDMA and poppers [nitritos inalados], it gets more difficult. I even roll my eyes, to imagine that I’m under the influence of something”, says Fernando, 40 (the names of the interviewees were changed at their request).
He says the only drugs he uses today are marijuana and alcohol. “I got sick of cocaine,” he says. She also tells that she lost her virginity at 16, when she was already using marijuana. Later, other substances were added to the menu, and the association with sexual practices also progressed.
“In 95% of the times I had sex, I think I was under the influence of hard drugs, including MDMA and cocaine,” he says. “Today, when I look at porn, I search the internet looking for terms like that,” he says, in response to whether he knows the term chemsex.
The isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic may have contributed to the increased frequency of this type of practice. Among Magalhães’ patients, some exchanged clubs and nightclubs for parties in private homes with sex and drugs.
“Many of these people had their sexuality oppressed throughout their lives. These parties are a time when they feel ‘liberated’ to do everything they could not do, to enjoy”, says the doctor, for whom the pandemic has also exacerbated the use of substances to deal with difficult situations.
Some practitioners report better sexual performance or a greater sense of pleasure under the influence of drugs. For Sousa, however, this does not necessarily come from the effect of the drug itself, but from the disinhibition it causes. “Many gays have an internalized homophobia, they do not accept that they have a desire for this type of sex or they do not accept their own body. As the drug disinhibits, they have the impression that sex is better”, says the researcher.
For Juliana, a 29-year-old prostitute who promotes her services mainly through WhatsApp, it is not just gays who seek this type of practice. She says that it is very common to assist men who want to have sex under the influence of psychoactive substances and cites the case of MC Kevin, who died in May after falling from the balcony of a hotel in Barra da Tijuca, in Rio de Janeiro.
The musician, at the time, was in the room with a luxury companion and Victor Elias Fontenelle, the MC VK —the group used drugs.
The trajectory of José’s sexual life also went through the feeling of imminent risks, in addition to compulsion. He started going to a gay sauna in downtown São Paulo and describes a scenario of use of chemical substances, inside rooms and cabins, with marathons that used to last 48 hours.
The danger was loss of control and the risk of overdose. “My first connection to cocaine was when I was 35 years old. I thought I was mature enough to make this kind of decision and closed to some vulnerability. I was always very straight with me”, he says.
He says he had friends who used drugs in a context like the sauna. “I was, I was able to enjoy the night [sem usar nada]. I saw that other friends were still there. Sometimes for days. And I kept trying to understand how they found so much strength for that”.
Little by little, José continues, he began to understand that these marathons were driven by chemical sex. The first time he decided to join chemsex was to accompany a partner with whom he already had a relationship.
The respondent reports that he did not feel funny about the effect the first few times he practiced chemsex and that is why he decided to insist. It was the third or fourth time that he felt a kind of “infinite enjoyment,” a pleasure that was continuous and lasting.
“The desire I had was to never finish enjoying”, she narrates. “It was less important to ejaculate, and it was an introspective experience, sometimes whoever was with me wasn’t that interesting to me,” he says.
José says that he always thought that what he was doing was wrong and that, with the difficulty of interrupting chemsex sessions, he began to consider himself dependent on cocaine. “I didn’t use it daily, sometimes it was monthly, fortnightly, but I’ve unlearned how to have sex outside the context of cocaine use. The sauna was a perfect environment for that, because when I got there I would find someone, and I would have some drug for personal use”, he says.
At that moment, José suspected that he was vulnerable, “first because the use I made was very intense, there was excessive spending, and I felt defeated even when I thought about using it. Then, I experienced absurd hangovers that lasted for days Hangovers that were physical and moral. I was depressed,” he says.
“I think I never normalized the use of this, and I saw this speech being reiterated by friends, who said there were no problems, because I had a job, I never missed work because of it,” he says. knowing how to have sex in another way”, he says.
For Magalhães, there are people who do chemsex sessions in a conscious, planned and occasional way, protecting themselves and minimizing problems, so that the practice does not have a negative impact on their lives. Others, however, are at greater risk of developing chemical dependency, whether due to hereditary factors or preexisting psychological or emotional issues.
Like other interviewees, José started to put aside his physical training routine, good nutrition and especially hydration. It is common for cocaine and methamphetamine users, for example, to forget that they need to drink water.
Loss of control also carries other risks. Under the influence of substances, experts say, many stop using condoms or stop using PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medication that reduces the risk of contracting HIV) and expose themselves to sexually transmitted infections.
The combined use of some drugs or their association with alcohol can also lead to physical effects such as dehydration, tachycardia and cardiac arrhythmia.
To reduce this type of damage, reports Sousa, party organizers in Portugal call the Ministry of Health, which sends teams to the site. At the entrance, they ask patrons what kind of drug they intend to use and give guidance on appropriate doses for the person’s weight and on which substances not to mix. They are also on hand in case anyone needs medical attention.
There is also the danger of sexual abuse by unknown partners, of which Luís was a victim. He says he was called in for a chemsex session about two weeks ago and that the contact was made via app by a man he had previously had sex with.
Luís says he has used marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, crack, poppers, GHB and smoked methamphetamine for sex.
He says he was looking for sexual pleasure without using additives, because he had already gone through the sensation of dependence. That night, he was attracted by conversations on the app and the indication of drug use through emojis. In sex apps, it’s common for users to identify themselves with pictures of lightning bolts (for those who use cocaine) or a diamond-like gemstone (meth).
He says he agreed to go to this acquaintance’s apartment, where there was a third man. “There is a time when you negotiate with yourself whether you go or not. And there I had decided that I would only use the drug that I was going to take myself, methamphetamine”, he says. He had also decided that he would not do the slam, which is the practice of injecting methamphetamine, and that he warned both partners that he would only consent to sex in which he was in an active position.
“For a long time on that occasion, it was very good, it was really good”, he says. However, at a certain point he could no longer get an erection. “I said: guys, I’m going to stay out of it, I’m going to have some water.” At that moment, he claims that someone offered him a soda. “From there I started to be very obedient, I started to do what they told me to do,” he says.
Under the insistence of doing a dose of slam, he became “a toy in the hands of partners”. “I remember that other people started to arrive”. He was losing consciousness, but he realized that something had been dripped into his ear. “When I regained consciousness there were six or seven people around me.”
A few days later, he decided to go to the police. He underwent a toxicology test, which to his surprise, accused him of using morphine, among other substances — he claims that he was abused by a group in which there were at least ten men.