Chemsex: Do not underestimate risks of sexual contact under the influence of substances

Andrea Brunner (Aids Hilfe Wien), Lisa Brunner (Institut für Suchtprävention), Horst Schalk (v.l.n.r.)

Chemsex network offers support and advice

Chemsex, i.e. sex under the influence of chemical substances, is also not uncommon in Austria and Vienna. It is known from a large study from 2017 that around 20 percent of all people surveyed stated that they had experienced at least half of all sexual contacts under the influence of various substances in the past 12 months. Just under half of the 2,705 MSM (men who have sex with men) surveyed in Austria at the time were from Vienna. “Compared to the nevertheless high prevalence, the knowledge about the risks and possibilities to get support, if that is desired, is low. The Chemsex Network aims to remedy this situation by bringing together relevant counseling facilities and medical professionals from various disciplines to network, educate and, above all, support the search for contact persons,” emphasized Andrea Brunner, Managing Director of Aids Hilfe Wien, Lisa Brunner, Head of the Institute for Addiction Prevention at the Addiction and Drug Coordination Vienna, and Dr. Horst Schalk, a general practitioner at a media conference in Vienna.

“Chems pose a danger that is underestimated in many cases,” Schalk said. “In addition to the risks to physical health, such as from incorrect dosages or dangerous interactions in combination with other substances or medications, there are also the risks of having sex under the influence of Chems. The risk of injury due to increased disinhibition exists, as does the increased risk of infection from unprotected sex, which is more common after taking Chems.”

Lisa Brunner points out the mental health dangers associated with using the substances most commonly used in connection with chemsex – gamma-hydroxybutyric acid/gamma-butyrolactone (GHB/GBL) – known as liquid ecstasy – methamphetamine, mephedrone and ketamine. “Substance use always comes with risks. Among other things, it can lead to increased anxiety, insecurity or delusions. But loss of control during the effect or depressive episodes when the effect wears off are also frequently observed phenomena. Protecting one’s own health and that of others should always come first.” Overall, depressive symptomatology and anxiety disorders are present to a significantly higher extent compared to the general population.

It is also known from studies that Chems users often do not know where they should turn to when they need and want advice, support or information. At the same time, medical professionals also often do not know where to refer users in such cases. After all, around a quarter to 30 percent would like to see a change in their consumption behavior by limiting it or even stopping it completely.  “Counseling and knowledge enhancement are the decisive factors. Also to counteract stigmatization and taboo. And only if these two factors are minimized will help be sought. Therefore, the clear call to take advantage of a consultation with one of the network partners of the Chemsex Network,” said Andrea Brunner.

In the coming months, the Chemsex network will also be increasingly present at relevant locations, such as locales or practices, under the motto “So that the chemistry is right”, in order to make the counseling and support services more widely known. 

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