Chemsex and the City: How Post-2008 London Sparked Provocative Scene

A new study links a post-2008 London to the rise in the chemsex scene.

A controversial new study has tried to make sense of the chemsex scene in the UK, and has suggested that a post-2008 London could be one of the many reasons for its surge in popularity.

The paper, The Rise of Chemsex: queering collective intimacy in neoliberal London, was first published on Thursday in the Cultural Studies journal with the research conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and led by Dr Jamie Hakim.

The study makes the assumption that gay men in London are turning to chemsex as a way to escape feelings of alienation. With many of the city’s gay bars and clubs diminishing, the suggestion is made that as these venues are shut down then people are turning to alternative parties and group sex sessions to meet and connect to one another.

Within the paper, Hakim explains:

The emergence of chemsex in London since around 2011 can most persuasively be made sense of as a response to a particular set of material changes that have been occurring during neoliberalism’s struggle for hegemony and the impact these have had on the practices of intimacy available to gay and bisexual men to engage in.

The research for the paper involved interviewing 15 gay and bisexual men who have had chemsex at least once, who were recruited through an ad on Grindr. The very same app that the paper claims to be a big driving force in helping chemsex sessions come together.

The flows of inequitably distributed global capital and the related increase in flows of global migration have transformed the types of intimacies practicable by the gay and bisexual community in London. But there are men who still want that collective experience, which more recently has been enabled by technology.

The research has also faced some criticism online. Steve Morris, lead for Chemsex Related Sexual Crime with the UK’s Prison & Probation Service, said to GayStarNews: “I question the motivation for the research and I am concerned about its claim that an “influx of migrants from outside London and the UK” have “compounded” the issue. Really? Where is the evidence for this racist claim?”

In response to the criticism, Dr Jamie Hakim said to the website: “I want to be very clear when I talk about migration. I’m talking about migration into London, so that can also be British-born people from the UK. I no way endorse or support a narrative that would suggest migrants – in the dominant way we understand that term – are generating chemsex.”

“If you read the paper, it’s very clear that it’s not about people who aren’t British. It’s about moving to a place where you don’t know people.”

The research also found that interviewees saw chemsex sessions brought together a sense of togetherness. One interviewee likened the sessions to “enjoying a private club” where “you don’t have to worry about anything.”

Participants also responded that in some cases, sex was only part of many of the sessions and that non-sexual activities, such as “deep emotional talk”, also occurred.

The research tries to steer clear of investigating the potential dangers and long-term effects of chemsex sessions but it is hoped that it will be used as a stepping stone towards further, extensive research into the scene being conducted.

Dr Jamie Hakim is a lecturer at University of East Anglia (UEA) and has previously served in editorial positions within Attitude magazine.


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