Media Interest and Articles on the subject of “Gay Chemsex Parties”: A Psychologist’s response.
I have read three articles in the mainstream media about “Chemsex” and gay men in as many weeks. The first in the Independent Newspaper, the second in the Guardian Newspaper and the third in last Friday’s evening standard entitled “Drug-fuelled chemsex party: survivor: I woke up naked on the sofa – I had no idea where I was”. I am interested in the language appearing in these articles such as “Drug fuelled”, “Self-Destructive” and “Survivor” and the sensational tone in some of these articles. I think when we label things we lose an opportunity to develop our understanding. I am not sure how well these articles have contributed to a better understanding of sex and drug use among gay men other than perhaps to add to a narrative about recklessness, excess, and shame. One of the reasons the “Just say no” campaigns were not effective in the 1980s was that it did not talk about one side of the experience of taking drugs ; that people say they enjoy them and describe the highs as amazing. When we talk to people about things in a way that does not speak to their experience we lose them. Given that people of all sexual orientations for decades have sometimes used drugs with sex, I found myself wondering what it is about the perceptions of “Chemsex” that generates so such much coverage and discussion beyond the understandable public health concerns. It seems there is the perception that this “excess” is too “excessive”. In my experience one of the angles missing from these articles on “Chemsex” is that people are drawn to sex and drugs because they enjoy both. The problems that people might get into are the aspects that always get talked about but in ways that I think do not shed a lot of light as to why some people get into difficulty. For example, all the gay men I have seen in my clinical work for problems with “Chemsex” have all said to me that loneliness was one reason that pushed them towards “Chemsex”. My own view is that we need to understand the emotional reasons behind our actions, and how it relates to our vulnerabilities, to understand something enough in order to be able to change what we do. Problems related to doing too much of something are not after all limited to gay men, sex and drugs – you could add food, alcohol, love, work, and exercise, to name but a few, to the list. This suggests that working out what is enough and expressing our desires in a “safe” way is about being human and something that we probably all have to confront at various points in our lives. After all people say “You can never have enough of a good thing.”
Dr Robert Watson, Clinical Psychologist, 19th November 2015