Characteristics and sexual health service use of MSM engaging in chemsex: Results from a large online survey in England

Paula Blomquist*, Hamish Mohammed, Amy Mikhail, Peter Weatherburn, David Reid, Sonali Wayal, Gwenda Hughes, Catherine H. Mercer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background Chemsex, the use of select psychoactive drugs to enhance sexual experience, typically among men who have sex with men (MSM), is associated with sexual behaviours with higher STI risk. Understanding patterns of chemsex among MSM as well as the characteristics and sexual health service engagement of chemsex participants is important for developing interventions. Methods Between 5/2016 to 5/2017, 3933 MSM completed an online survey, recruited in sexual health clinics (SHCs) in England (n=421) and via four social networking/dating apps (n=3512). We described patterns of chemsex in the past year and used multivariable logistic regression to investigate differences in demographics and sexual behaviours by chemsex history. We described history of SHC attendance and STI test in the past year among app-recruited chemsex participants. Results Chemsex in the past year was reported by 10% of respondents; 19% of SHC-recruited and 9% of app-recruited. Among chemsex participants, 74% had used ≥2 chemsex drugs. In the multivariable model, MSM engaging in chemsex had a raised odds of being HIV-positive (adjusted OR (aOR): 3.6; 95% CI 2.1 to 6.1), aged 30-44 (aOR 1.5 vs <30 years; 95% CI 1.0 to 2.1), being born outside the UK and having engaged in higher risk sexual behaviours in the past 3 months. Chemsex participants also had higher odds of condomless anal sex with partners of different or unknown HIV status, but only among HIV-negative/untested. In the past year, 66% of app-recruited chemsex participants had attended a SHC and 81% had had an STI test. Conclusion One in 10 MSM recruited through community and clinical settings across England had engaged in chemsex in the past year. Those that did appear to be at greater STI risk but engaged more actively with sexual health services. This highlights the need and opportunity for chemsex-related services in SHCs and robust referral pathways to drug treatment services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)590-595
Number of pages6
JournalSexually Transmitted Infections
Volume96
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Contributors SW, DR and PBB set up and coordinated the study in sexual health clinics, and PW and DR established and ran the app-recruited survey. The work was managed by PW, GH and CHM. SW and DR secured ethics and R&D permissions. PBB analysed the quantitative data and wrote the majority of the paper, with contributions by CHM, GH, HM, AM, PW, SW and DR. All authors approved the final version. CHM and GH secured funding from the National Institute for Health Research for the Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Blood Borne and Sexually Transmitted Infections at University College London in partnership with Public Health England (PHE), in collaboration with London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Funding Information:
Funding This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Blood Borne and Sexually Transmitted Infections at University College London in partnership with Public Health England (PHE), in collaboration with London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

Publisher Copyright:
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Keywords

  • HIV
  • gay men
  • injecting drug use
  • sexual behaviour
  • sexual health

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