London is witnessing a surge of drug-fueled orgies among gay and bisexual men called "chemsex," and the resulting spike in HIV allegedly due to the increasing niche sexual phenomena is creating moral panic in the city.
But, a researcher suggested that gentrification is the reason for the chemsex boom.
Chemsex emerged in 2011 and refers to gay male sex parties coupled with the use of recreational drugs, like GHB, mephadrone and crystal meth.
Dr Jamie Hakim, a lecturer in the School of Art, Media and American Studies, was featured in a report in Independent which analyzed the phenomenon and the effects it had on the media.
His research – based on government migration reports on property prices and interviews with a diverse group of those who engage in chemsex – refutes the fact that chemsex is attributed to the mass concern over the spread of HIV transmission.
There is little evidence to suggest that it is on the rise amongst Britain's gay community as a whole. According to the The Chemsex Study, the most comprehensive study on chemsex in Britain to date, the practice is becoming popular in London; even more specifically, in the boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham – Vauxhall, and its surrounding areas.
He found that most of the gay population had nowhere else to turn after 58% of London's nightclubs closed between 2006 and 2017. The 2008 recession created a boom to London's already high cost of living, rendering the gay community and others who can't afford to sustain a life in the city priced out and alone.
Hakim said this had the most impact in London's Vauxhall, which is one of the poorest areas in the city subject to major redevelopment.
The ensuing isolation caused gay men to rely on dating and hook-up apps to spark a connection with others. Combining the use of drugs with uninhibited sex elevated the experience further than just filling the void of loneliness.
Hakim described why those who were victims of cut social programs and being priced out of their homes turned to chemsex.
Chemsex can be seen as a particularly intense way for groups of people to form intimate collective bonds at a time when the government's social and economic policies attempt to make this very thing impossible.
One of the 15 participants in the study said:
In a way, you're enjoying a private club… everyone thinks the same as you think. You don't have to worry about anything because you're going to be in an environment where you feel safe and whatever you do, whatever you think, whatever you say you'll be very much accepted.
Another participant, who is estranged from his family and was lonely talked about why he turned to chemsex.
I was feeling really lonely. I was looking for company. I was really depressed living in London… you don't have friends, you don't have family, you're living in a big city… you have the weekend to yourself and you don't know what to do.
Chemsex isn't just about the sex.
Other participants I interviewed said there's less of a gay culture in London now, but people are still looking for places to fit in, to belong. Sex is only one of the many group activities that occur during chemsex sessions, many of which were non-sexual in nature. One of the key activities that took place was a lot of deep emotional talk.
Hakim said that the rise in HIV transmission among Londoners is an unfair assessment by the media. Instead, he found that "The recent rise in HIV infection is, in fact, more likely to do with the poor quality of gay sex education available in Britain."