ChemSex – the film

ChemSex (from VICE and 56 Dean Street)

Watch the official trailer!

Directed by Max Gogarty and Will Fairman

matt spike

(Image by Matt Spike, who features in the film)

There is no other way to start this piece than to say I found this film incredibly necessary for our community right now. Its potential to open a much needed, shame-free dialogue on ChemSex and its educational benefits can’t be challenged. Personally, as someone who has a ChemSex past (and no doubt a ChemSex future) it was very difficult to watch at times. It is uncomfortable to observe what actually goes on in ChemSex, sober and in a nice cinema. To see this behavior in a context outside of its natural environment amplifies, some might say purifies the deep rooted suffering that so many guys who are caught up and lost in this scene are struggling with.

The film opens with a Brady Bunch style visual of a screen divided into about 16 individual blocks, each containing a guy talking about ChemSex and the party scene, direct to camera. From this group of talking heads we are eventually dragged along for the ride on a handful of the featured individuals journeys. Different as these stories were – the theme was the same – ChemSex and therefore each person’s social, emotional and personal battles were very similar. Different symptoms of the same condition.

Watch the trailer below…

What I loved about the film was that there were no victims. Just people being honest, who may be struggling but who were trying their best to get on and get over their issues. Even Miguel (the French guy) who provided the most uncomfortable viewing moments via a slamming scene where we see him sat on a sofa emptying out a rucksack full of beautifully multi-coloured slamming syringes, rummaging through the 10 or so pins that he has tipped out of the bag, we suddenly become aware that these aren’t new pins…They aren’t as pretty as their rainbow colours might suggest. They have various amounts of previously used M and T mixed with his now cold blood. He tries to re-use one of the old needles for a hit and stabs at his left arm continuously. Over and over again trying to find the least battered vein that will enable him to get his high….I was squirming in my seat. Yet I couldn’t judge him or shame him. I was squirming so much because I recall myself being in that position and several of my friends too. And he is no different to any of us. Not at all. We find out a few frames later that he just wants a ‘normal life’ with a partner and a garden and a cat. But he says “This is a disease. I don’t have the ability to stop”. And we all know how that feels. In fact, I connected with Miguel a lot. I had the partner (fiancé), the garden and the cat. It was losing all of that, the things I loved that catapulted me on to and into the ChemSex scene. Love and the lack of love….

That is the real message and raison d’etre of ChemSex (the film).

David Stuart from 56 Dean Street who features heavily in the documentary clarified a few things…

“ChemSex is nothing more than a health syndemic experienced by a vulnerable population; not in any way, something shameful or best kept secret.

Though there may be an expected backlash from the odd Daily Mail reader (nothing surprising or unmanageable there), the only backlash so far has been from within the gay community; people who are understandably concerned, that gay equality and societal homophobia may be set back by airing our dirty linen in public. There were similar fears in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. But HIV is just a disease, not a punishment from God or an indictment of promiscuity. And ChemSex is nothing more than a public health syndemic, affecting a vulnerable and lovely population of gay men. Alarm, though understandable, is not justified. Community support, and dialogue is what is required to address this problem within our community.”

David raised another great point in the film…

“Something about our sex as gay men – is causing harm. And that needs addressing”

With that in mind, this film allows us to safely explore for ourselves why ChemSex has become ‘a thing’. We all know, no matter how much we try to style it out with a gym ripped body or sharp hair cut or a fresh pair of hi tops or a ¼ of T, 2 grams of Meph, 100 mils of G and a handful of Viagra. That we all act up and behave questionably for the same set of reasons that are pretty much applicable to us all and constantly at play in all of our gay lives.

Growing up isolated and/or bullied. Or if we weren’t bullied we were still always aware that we were ‘different’ and so always existed on the peripheral of society. Constantly just outside of the norm.

Drugs are dis-inhibitors.

“There is a definable reason these gay men are using drugs in this way”

But when we start accepting this as the standard, that’s when things start to escalate. We live in a gay culture of excess. The biggest cock, the longest fuck session, the marathon bank holiday clubbing, the endless party.

“The problem is on the inside. We are normalizing behaviour that isn’t normal”

I have actually had a lot of fun as a ChemSex-er. It was something that I threw myself into in the aftermath of the break up of a 7 year relationship. It had it’s benefits. I was emotionally unavailable but I needed some contact and interaction. ChemSex parties were ideal. I could get intimacy without investment. And that suited me (and a lot of the guys featured in this film) very well. But not as a long term set up. I don’t think you can sustain this. It’s too physically, mentally and financially draining and unfulfilling.

So what is the ‘problem’ with ChemSex?

I was at a press screening of this film which had a Q&A session afterwards and a very well known individual from the gay scene asked “How real a concern is ChemSex? I don’t know anyone who does ChemSex”. I almost fell off my seat! I thought “What the fuck! Are you for real? I don’t know anyone who DOESN’T do Chemsex”. While I seriously doubt that this guy has a group of friends that never touch drugs during sex, it did make me consider that some people participating in ChemSex perhaps don’t identify themselves as ChemSex-ers or feel comfortable or able to disclose and discuss that they have ChemSex. The potential pitfalls that come along with ChemSex are just as real of a threat to these guys as they are to an ’out’ ChemSex-er.

But I think the real problem with Chemsex is this…

It’s not a problem until you want to stop or change. Then the problem becomes very clear. What was once your pleasure becomes your prison

Which is why a lot of prolonged chemsex participants find their lives punctuated with quite dramatic and serious accidents/events such as a trip to A&E, getting arrested, being raped, losing a job, losing a partner, rehab, contracting HIV or HCV or even death. The problem isn’t ChemSex itself. Some people navigate it skillfully and exist on that scene very well. So you really only become aware that you have a problem with ChemSex when you want to break the ChemSex pattern but by then it might be too late. I hope not. I really hope it’s not too late for any of us.

We need our friends. We need the help of support services such as ChemSex run by the Wellbeing Programme from 56 Dean Street. Other agencies like Antidote can help. Through these avenues we have options and if we have options then we have a choice. It’s up to you and me and each of us to make our own choice. Make it a good one. Keep healthy and keep happy guys! x

ChemSex is released in cinemas from December 4th 2015 and will be available on DVD early 2016. This film is about our scene and what is happening on it now. Regardless if you do ChemSex or not – you need to watch this film. We all do.

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13 thoughts on “ChemSex – the film

  1. Chem sex is great obviously, but you can’t keep doing it forever. In your 50s, invitations to sex parties are few and far between and you can’t recover from a chem session as quickly. If you are lucky enough to have a regular parter it is a challenge to go back to enjoying ‘household sex’. After decades of fear and shame around HIV, I wonder if it is pathologising the issue too much and whether we ought to be just celebrate our sexual freedom. Very interesting article and I can’t wait to see the film.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting article.

    I would like to highlight, though, that the reason why there are people – many people, in fact – who do not identify as ChemSex-ers is because… well, because they aren’t. Most gay men I know closely DO NOT use drugs (illegal ones, at least). Not for sex, not for any thing else. I have never had sex under the influence of any drug (other than a bit of alcohol some times). The reality that the film portrays is a reality that applies only to a subset of gay men (a small one, in fact, I am tempted to argue). We all tend to surround ourselves by people like ourselves. Inevitably we tend to assume that all other people are like ourselves. I was truly shocked when I realised that people I knew – or friends of people I knew – partook in the sex+drugs activities shown in the film.

    The phrase “we all” is used inaccurately in this article more than once, in my opinion.

    Well done for a thought-provoking article anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment. I use the word ‘we’ mainly in reference to a community. Alcohol before/for sex is the original and biggest prevalence of ChemSex…it is still a drug after all.

      You state – “I was truly shocked when I realised that people I knew – or friends of people I knew – partook in the sex+drugs activities shown in the film” – think of all the associates that you do not know about nor have disclosure from on this kind of activity. From this statement I think ‘we’ all can agree that the true volume or proportion of our friends affected by this is unknown. The prevalence of ChemSex is impossible to quantify, as is the exact number of HIV diagnoses that are definitively attributable to ChemSex. Thank you so much for showing your support. Please share the article so we can let people know that it’s ok – even good to discuss this subject. xx

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I don’t doubt your account, but like the author I also don’t know any gay men in London who don’t, or didn’t, do chemsex. I lived and worked there for 13 years as a high flying professional, with networks in the arts and business, yet it is chemsex more than anything else that is my enduring memory of London. Whether you are personally into it or not, chemsex is pervasive and we need more discussion of this in our community, without “slut shaming”. Years of fear and shame around HIV have created expectations of being “good gay citizens”, yet if there is one thing we have learnt from HIV, it is that hiding beind the cloak of respectabiity is not the way to deal with a health problem. Let’s not be divisive over this.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks David. I guess we only ever really ‘know’ what other people want or allow us to know. We can suspect or make well based assumptions but even myself as someone who is visibly very open about my HIV+ status, my past, present and future with drugs and ChemSex and all that goes with that. And also my last relationship with my ex-fiance…to a point. Some things are just too painful even for me to be open about. Sometimes we can’t always lay it all out there. And that’s OK too. We need to know that we can ask for help if we need it and also know that it’s OK to keep somethings to ourselves. As long as we stay happy and stay healthy. x

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  4. Chemsex he said was 98 percent good, how about the 2 percent. I’m hiv positive. I was diagnose with aids 1996. What went thru from it pcp pneumonia 5 times, coma, heart attack 99.9 percent dead, is it worth it. What people need to do is respect Aids. So if your really want to follow the leader, be my guest. Curiosity killed the kitty cat

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m a Londoner. I was abandoned as a child, lived alone several years, in care and abused so I don’t really agree with the idea that guys do it because of damaged past. I just don’t get the massive urge gay guys get for chemsex but to be fair I have never drank , smoked or used drugs which in London I seem to be looked at as a freak because of it. I think this is a good film and article because many friends of mine I have lost contact with now due to the chemsex scene and they deny the problem but this makes it aware and shows people that we can see and understand but just want to help.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello,

    I am Miguel, the French guy from the documentary. I haven’t watched the documentary at all. I’ve now been clean from all drugs and mind and mood-altering substances for a year after re-joining Narcotics Anonymous. I chose not to watch this documentary because even though clean and much stronger mentally, it would make me sink back into that dreadful period of my life and bring about demons of the past that might ultimately lead me to a relapse or self-harm.

    I had the bad idea to google “my name + chemsex” yesterday at 2 a.m. and read what is said about the film. I was pleasantly surprise of the positive reaction to the documentary. The film is pretty newly out so more will come and hopefully, I will have stopped playing with fire by googling it.

    Thank you for this post/article. It might seem weird to say that but it actually helped me get reassured and it’s one more step towards accepting my past, forgiving myself and letting the past where it belong : in the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Miguel! Hello buddy! Thank you so much for leaving that lovely comment. That’s kind of weird that you’ve found my article and introduced yourself as I watched ChemSex again on Friday evening (for the 3rd time!!) before giving an interview to BBC radio 5 Live on my ChemSex past and my recent HIV diagnosis. The odd thing is – you actually popped up in my dreams on Friday night (don’t worry – nothing inappropriate lol). As you probably picked up from reading the piece that your story and situation impacted onto me the most and though you were obviously in a difficult time during the shooting of the film that I connected with you as I had found myself in a similar position in the past and for similar reasons. Anyway, I’m really pleased that you made contact. I am so happy that you are doing well and continue to do so. I have the upmost respect for you and your participation in this project. Stay happy and strong my friend. Much love. xxxxx

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