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Chemsex: A Case Study of Drug-Userphobia

11 June 2019

Chemsex is an emerging term that refers to the use of certain drugs in the context of sex. It is a term associated with a number of communities of gay and bisexual men, the clubbing and club drug scenes, and the fetish and BDSM scenes though, of course, other communities can and do engage in chemsex. Specifically, it refers to sex that is accompanied, enhanced, and/or facilitated by drugs. As with all people who use drugs, people who engage in chemsex are diverse and heterogeneous.

Stigma, criminalisation, and social exclusion have resulted in poor understanding of chemsex, and of people who engage in chemsex. The media, government, or health systems rarely, if ever, engage with chemsex from the perspective of drug users’ rights. In the context of chemsex, drug use is framed as threat to the community. From a human rights perspective, we must reject such moral judgement of people’s drug use in the context of the sex they have. Instead, the focus must be on realising drug users’ rights to self-determination and bodily autonomy, as well as their right to receiving health-related information and services to navigate their drug use according to their choice.

This report draws on a consultation regarding chemsex undertaken by INPUD in South Africa to challenge the stigma and discrimination experienced by individuals who engage in chemsex. The community of people who engage in chemsex in Cape Town has been thriving for well over a decade, and the report supplements these perspectives from consultations with communities of people who use drugs in other regions and contexts in order to ground discussions in a global setting. INPUD hopes that this report is of particular interest to communities who engage in chemsex around the world. It will also be of interest and relevance to a broad range of service providers and health professionals who cater to the unique needs of people who engage in chemsex, people who use and inject drugs, including gay and bisexual men, queer people, trans people, and other communities who engage in chemsex.

This report was written by Jay Levy, copyedited by Zana Fauzi and designed by Mike Stonelake. INPUD is very grateful for financial support from Bridging the Gaps and the Robert Carr civil society Networks Fund. INPUD would additionally like to thank the Cape Town Network of People who Use Drugs (CANPUD), who coordinated the consultations that informed this document, and all of the participants of the consultations. We would also like to thank Mohan Sundararaj and M-PACT for their indispensable review of, and contribution to, this document.