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Britons most likely to combine sex and drugs, study shows

Largest ever survey of ‘chemsex’ shows it is not just limited to gay men and could be important for reducing disease transmission and deaths

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Thursday 11 April 2019 08:36 BST
Britons most likely to combine sex and drugs, study shows

People in Britain are more likely to combine drugs and sex than any other Western nation, according to the largest investigation to date on intercourse under the influence.

The study drawn is drawn from 22,000 responses to the Global Drugs Survey and is the first to take look in such detail at sexual preferences across different groups.

Led by University College London it found that across Europe, the US, Canada, and Australia, Britons were the most likely to report getting amorous while intoxicated on virtually every substance, with the exception of cannabis.

While “chemsex” has most commonly been associated with groups of gay and bisexual men, the researchers said their findings show the practice is actually widespread.

Understanding this could be important for health professionals looking to target awareness campaigns or other safety enhancing interventions – such as the drug purity testing services.

“While using drugs in combination with and to specifically enhance the sexual experience tends to be associated with gay and bisexual men, we found that in our sample, men and women of all sexual orientations engaged in this behaviour,” said Dr Will Lawn, lead author of the study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

“Harm reduction messages relating to substance-linked sex in general should therefore not only be targeted towards gay and bisexual men, as they are relevant to all groups.”

The study uses an online survey to allow participants to anonymously give information on an array of drug-related behaviour they have undertaken in the past year.

It shows that the drugs most commonly used during sex were alcohol, reported by roughly 60 per cent of men and women; cannabis used by 37 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women; and MDMA, also known as ecstasy, used by 15.5 per cent of men and women.

Gay men were 60 per cent more likely to report using drugs to enhance sexual function, but the survey shows other groups or areas where there might be risks

Respondents were asked to rate drugs positive and negative effects, and the drug GHB and GBL was ranked the highest overall for “enhancing” the sexual experience.

GHB, has commonly been known as a date rape drug, but has gained attention because of recent high profile cases where its recreational use has led to deaths, such as the case of teacher Helena Keane.

It can cause a lethal overdose at very low doses but the survey shows it was used during sex by 10 per cent of gay men who responded to the survey, and 0.7 per cent of heterosexual men and women.

GHB was rated most highly by men and women, chiefly because it increased sexual desire, while MDMA, the second most highly rated for chemsex, improved emotional intimacy and time to orgasm.

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While respondents to the survey are more likely the general public to have tried drugs, the use of drugs in sex and other patterns are consistent between nations in the survey, the authors said.

“Previous studies have rarely compared men and women, and people of different sexual orientations,” said Professor Adam Winstock, another of the authors and founder of the Global Drug Survey.

“By appreciating how different drugs affect sex we can tailor our harm reduction messages. These pragmatic messages can save lives.”

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