Sexualised drug use in the United Kingdom (UK): A review of the literature

Claire Edmundson*, Ellen Heinsbroek, Rachel Glass, Vivian Hope, Hamish Mohammed, Martin White, Monica Desai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Sexualised drug use (SDU) refers to the use of drugs in a sexual context. This includes ‘Chemsex’- the use of drugs (specifically crystal methamphetamine, GHB/GBL and mephedrone) before or during planned sexual activity to sustain, enhance, disinhibit or facilitate the experience. Here we aimed to synthesise available UK prevalence data for Chemsex, SDU and the use of Chemsex drugs in an undefined context (CDU) in men who have sex with men (MSM). Methods: Papers published between January 2007 and August 2017 reporting Chemsex, SDU and/or Chemsex drug use (CDU) prevalence in MSM were identified through PubMed. Citations were searched for further eligible publications. We also conducted a review of national surveillance data, extracting prevalence data for Chemsex, SDU or CDU. Synthesized data were then assessed to determine the time at which these drugs were taken, in this case just prior to or during sexual activity (event-level). Results: Our search identified 136 publications, of which 28 were included in the final data synthesis. Three of the four surveillance systems assessed provided SDU or CDU data in MSM. Few publications included event-level data for Chemsex (n = 4), with prevalence estimates ranging from 17% among MSM attending sexual health clinics (SHC) to 31% in HIV-positive MSM inpatients. Prevalence estimates for SDU (n = 7 publications) also varied considerably between 4% in MSM receiving HIV care to 41% among MSM attending SHC for HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). Eighteen publications provided data for CDU. Conclusion: Prevalence estimates varied considerably due to differences in the definition used and population assessed. Standardised definitions and studies with representative national samples of MSM are required to improve our understanding of the extent of Chemsex and its associated risks. Longitudinal event-level data for SDU and Chemsex are needed to monitor impact of interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-148
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Publication statusPublished - May 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018


  • Chemsex
  • Homosexual
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Sexualised drug use
  • Slamming
  • Slamsex


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