A hard-hitting and eye-opening look at gay men and their sexual lifestyles is on full display in the new documentary ‘Chemsex.’ ★★★★
It’s not all gay men, but, as the documentary tells us, it’s but a few who go on drug binges, coupled with lots of unsafe sex, that last all weekend. And it’s these men who are more than likely to become infected with HIV.
We meet several of these men. One of the first is Dick, who is not shy to tell us about his sexual exploits, while on drugs, and freely admits that he’s just taken drugs before the camera crew arrives (a couple of the guys interviewed admit to this). We also meet clean cut Simon, a well-educated man who happens to be a geneticist. He’s had a hard time beating the temptation to take part in drugs and unsafe sex. He also admits that he’s HIV+, but he’s also a denialist who doesn’t believe that he’s got it. We then meet Enrique, a 30-something good looking Spanish man who says he was a commercial banker for 10 years but lost everything because of his chemicals habit.
After losing pretty much everything, including his job, he resorted to prostitution to make money. More importantly, we meet David Stuart, Substance Use Lead, GUM/HIV Manager at Soho’s 56 Dean Street Clinic. We see his discussions with Simon, who he tells to try to go a week, and two weeks, then another without taking drugs. Stuart is the voice of reason in ‘Chemsex.’ He’s there as an advisor, and also as a friend, to many of his patients. Stuart bluntly says in the film that him and a friend used to regularly do cocaine while he was hooked up to a IV drip while he was close to death with an HIV illness many years ago. No doubt his experience with both HIV and drugs enables him to relate to his patients at the clinic. And his program at the Clinic is one of its kind and is being used as a model for clinics in the country.
It’s a disturbing documentary. Not only after hearing about these men’s behaviour but also to digest the fact that there are organised private parties for men who want to combine unsafe sex and various types of drugs. We meet one party organiser who opens up his home to the cameras, and we see the men who are there, engaging in unsafe sex all around the house, with most of them openly taking drugs, mostly provided by the host.
Of the estimated 107,800 people living in the UK with HIV, 24% are undiagnosed and possibly spreading the virus. And men who have sex with men have the highest risk of infection in the UK and, in 2013, they accounted for 54% of new diagnoses. One in 11 gay men in London is living with HIV. And a record high of 3,360 gay men were diagnosed with HIV in 2014. It’s statistics like these that make you wonder why gay men partake in drugs and unsafe safe, with Chemsex being the term for this. Directors William Fairman and Max Gogarty spectacularly highlight this epidemic in the gay community in a very powerful and potent film about the underworld of modern gay life with it’s easy access to sex using mobile apps and the internet, and drugs.
Statistics in a chemsex study from 2014 by 56 Dean Street Clinic showed that 3,000 gay men accessing the clinic each month are using recreational drugs, though not necessarily wishing to address their drug use. 100 new gay men access specific ChemSex support each month; 70% of these reported no ‘chem-free’ sex in previous six months while 98% had never accessed statutory drug use support.
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.