The Must-See Film That's Hard To Watch: Chemsex Reviewed
Two years ago an investigation into London’s male gay scene spotted a new phenomenon on the rise called Chemsex. If you’re not familiar, it’s basically a chemically-induced, sex-focused party with multiple partners. Usually across a weekend and often organised online — with Grndr being the app of choice — Chemsex sessions can involve gay men of all ages, from all walks of life with one common goal: bliss.
The exploration of this emerging scene gave birth to William Fairman and Max Gogarty’s astute documentary with a matching title. With unprecedented access into the parties and a series of very personal and confessional accounts of men who have lived through all the highs and inevitable lows of those get-togethers, it’s frankly impossible to ignore this film.
The journey of Chemsex experience is told through a combination of interviews, raw and graphic footage of the parties themselves, mixed with beautifully poetic imagery of the Pride parade and the neon-soaked streets of Soho before and after these Chemsex nights. As you follow the various stories, once you get your bearings with the coded lingo, you find yourself a little closer to understanding why people are attracted to the transgressive promise of these parties.
Often described online as ‘parties with chillouts’, the reality is everything that term is not. An alphabet soup of drugs is on offer amid the dance music, porn and sexual abandon: T is for Tina or crystal meth, G is for GHB/GBL, M is for mephedrone and K for ketamine, the horse tranquiliser. And as if this doesn't sound hardcore enough, there might very well be slamming sessions, when the drugs are injected too. These scenes in the film are among the hardest to watch particularly when one of the users appears to be having a manic episode as he shoots up.
It might be debatable how attractive these two-to-three-day benders without inhibition or limits may be, however it’s clear from the film, that under the influence of such potent chemicals the world seems to transform. Extreme pleasure is the destination and the elation no doubt softens the cruelty of the process that gets you there.
Fairman and Gogarty have no intention of glamourizing Chemsex — and they never do. They follow the journey all the way through to the hard-hitting, dark and difficult comedowns that follow. Coming out of multiple weekends of such excess, can leave a bitter taste in the brain with severe health risks as a souvenir.
In our online and text-obsessed lifestyles, intimacy and a sense of belonging often prove elusive and become hard to find among the tinsel-wrapped brambles of pleasure found in sex and drugs.
Dr David Stuart, a notable contributor to the film, states the facts without judgement, explaining how Chemsex endangers the physical as well as the mental well-being of many of these men. They not only find themselves exposed to sexually-transmitted infections but also traumatic emotional scarring and self-destructive behaviour. These potent drugs are, of course, addictive and certainly there's nothing to brag about when you find you’ve tested HIV positive.
Dr Stuart is worried by the number of partners these men encounter each weekend and how skewed their sex education sometimes can be, appearing fearless of the threats until something goes wrong. Horribly wrong in some cases: rape, prostitution and HIV are bedfellows of Chemsex and it can only take one bad weekend to end up in such a nightmarish situation, as we see from the diverse group of men interviewed over the course of the film. Dr Stuart feels the gay community is now facing a health emergency with chemsex contributing a great deal to this reality — in one month his clinic in Dean Street saw 300 people surveyed saying they had engaged in the practice.
So if this euphoric trip brings such devastating effects, why do these intelligent, educated men decide to risk so much? Fairman and Gogarty are not afraid to search deeper in their efforts to get better insights and their findings are heart breaking.
“What started as a look into a health emergency, soon evolved into a complex revelation,” say the filmmakers. “It wasn’t the sex or the drugs that shocked, neither was it the danger of the consequences, it was the realisation that, for the majority of people, it was intimacy and not lust or hedonism that was the driving force behind their behaviour.”
In the land of plenty that many Londoners live in where excess is the new norm, it’s surely very hard to resist the promise of absolute euphoria. In our ultra-modern, online and text-obsessed lifestyles, intimacy and a sense of belonging often prove elusive and become hard to find among the tinsel-wrapped brambles of pleasure found so conveniently in sex and drugs.
Irrespective of whether you are gay, straight, male or female, Fairman and Gogarty’s honest, non-judgemental, empathic and yet no-nonsense depiction of a trend that’s topping the charts of ‘fun things to do this weekend’ for many gay men will leave you moved, certainly more educated, somewhat numb and most likely wanting to do something to help. Watch it.
Chemsex is on limited release from Friday 4 December.
Last Updated 03 December 2015