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Chemsex Parties Are Enabling New HIV Epidemic Among Gay Men


Doctors at a recent London conference said the prevalence of "party and play" is causing new HIV diagnoses throughout Europe.

Physicians say HIV continues to hold a tight grip on the LGBTQ community partly because of the continued popularity of "chemsex."

Chemsex is typically described as using powerful drugs like crystal methamphetamine ("crystal" or "tina") and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) to enhance sex. Crystal and GHB often lower inhibitions, increase libido, and allow people to have sex for several hours, if not days. Hookup apps allow people to connect by using phrases like "party and play" or "high and horny."

The discussion of chemsex happened at the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care conference, which wrapped Wednesday in London. IAPAC President José Zuniga called the epidemic a "challenge of proportions we cannot fully comprehend at this time," according to Reuters.  

A 2014 study cited by the news agency found that 30 percent of HIV-positive men receiving treatment at an English clinic engaged in chemsex in the previous year. A more recent study, from last year, found that Spanish men who participated in drug-fueled sex had higher rates of HIV infection. 

Ignacio Labayen de Inza, a chemsex specialist who attended the London conference, warned that meth- and GHB-enhanced sex was rampant in most European cities as well as popular gay destinations like Ibiza and the Canary Islands.

The practice of "slamsex," where drugs are shot up by users, rather than snorted or swallowed, exacerbates the danger of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, doctors warned. The party and play scene may be one reason why HIV rates among gay and bi men, and trans women, are stagnating or worsening, while the global rates go down.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that HIV rates among African-American gay and bisexual men remained stable between 2010 and 2016, but grew among Latino gay and bisexual men; rates dropped among white gay and bi men, possibly because their privilege enables them greater access to the HIV prevention method known as PrEP.

“People are not scared any more of HIV,” de Inza told Reuters. “Many people I see say they think, It’s only a matter of time anyway, so I might as well have some fun.

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Neal Broverman