The second European ChemSex Forum was held in Berlin on 22-24 March 2018, organized by International HIV Partnerships and Professional Briefing and attended by 243 participants from 32 countries. The Forum started with a training day for 65 frontline staff from WHO European region and was followed by 2 days of presentations, discussions, panels, debates, small group workshops and poster displays.

The Forum had 3 key work areas:

  • responding to loneliness, boredom, social media and apps and other key factors which contribute to problematic ChemSex
  • multi-sectoral responses and
  • information gathering.

A minute of silence was observed at the opening of the Forum in memory of all those who died as a result of ChemSex.

What is ChemSex?

David Stuart defined ChemSex as a cultural phenomenon unique to modern gay hook-up culture, born of the impact of HIV epidemic had had upon the experience of homo-sex and gay communities. The convergence of these phenomena had resulted in a syndemic that had profoundly impacted gay and queer men’s concept of sex and pleasure and community; a syndemic named ChemSex.

Ben Collins said that ChemSex, just as HIV, was an indicator of discriminations and of large number of problems affecting many minorities, some of them internal to our own gay community.

Key messages from the training day for development and management of effective ChemSex services:

  • develop cultural competence in the topic and knowledge of its demographics
  • prioritize a holistic approach, looking at the person as a whole: mental health, physical health, sexual health and drug use
  • develop pathways and partnerships and foster creative thinking
  • conduct more research and evidence gathering, both for funding or commissioning purposes but also to identify potential responses and needs
  • focus on confidentiality and non-judgmental engagement
  • realise the multifocal realities of clients: gay men, sex workers, trans people and migrants
  • evaluate and measure what is being done
  • share expertise
  • distribute educational resources in appropriate spaces for target populations
  • create a safe space for people to hear and process what is being said in confidentiality
  • pay attention to the impact on HIV but also to other areas impacted by ChemSex; other STIs, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, as well as community cohesion.

Much-tweeted quote from the Forum: Giving up chems, could also for many gay men, mean a return to loneliness. (Ben Collins)

A new narrative of gay sexuality encouraging expression of self-acceptance and self-love, with realistic views of limitations and a healthy balance between needs and desire will lead to better sex through richer emotional experience and deeper personal connections. - Jan Grosser Schwulenberatung

Online ChemSex Care Plan

David Stuart from 56 Dean Street London introduced the Online ChemSex Care Plan 

The online interactive ChemSex Care plan supported people to make changes or to be safer regarding ChemSex by helping them to identify a realistic goal (for example: abstinence, taking a break, harm reduction) and the best way to reach it or if the person is not entirely sure about the goal  to reflect on drug use or sexual behaviour is using motivational interviewing techniques and then to select a goal, rate importance of achieving it, identify triggers, identify most vulnerable times, manage cravings differently and identify ways to play more safely and to reduce harm.

This online tool is translated in 17 languages.

AIDS Action Europe at the ChemSex Forum

AIDS Action Europe was one of the organizations which endorsed the Forum.

Ferenc Bagyinszky took part in Panel Discussion which was mainly focused on legal environment and literacy in law and legislation.

F. Bagyinszky stressed that stigma and discrimination stopped individuals from seeking support and accessing services, and that besides covering consent in ChemSex setting, a broader legal coverage of the environment was also necessary. Criminalisation inhibited health-seeking behaviours and was a barrier to reporting assaults to the police if it meant facing possible criminalization procedures.

Literacy in law and legislation also needed to be improved, both for users and providers. The drug and harm reduction movement and sex workers’ movement could teach us a lot on the issue. LGBTQ+ organizations, whose priorities were elsewhere, also needed to be more engaged.  

The third ChemSex Forum is going to happen in November 2019 in Paris.