Destabilising the ‘problem’ of chemsex: Diversity in settings, relations and practices revealed in Australian gay and bisexual men's crystal methamphetamine use Academic Article uri icon


  • In Australia, the crystalline form of methamphetamine ("crystal") is a commonly used illicit substance associated with sexual activity among gay and bisexual men. Attention to psychoactive substance use among this population is the subject of increasing global concern regarding the intentional and simultaneous combination of sex and drugs, often referred to as "chemsex". While not all gay and bisexual men who use psychoactive substances report problematic use, those who do often become representative of chemsex practices more generally, and the harms they experience become attributable to all men who use drugs for sex. The way in which these practices have been framed over the past few decades contributes to the rise of a narrow set of understandings of chemsex defined by the circumstances and behaviours presumed of drug-enhanced sexual activity. In effect, these understandings now align recognisable combinations of sexual and drug-using practices with assumed correlates of risk. The Crystal, Pleasures and Sex between Men study conducted 88 interviews with gay and bisexual men in four Australian cities between 2017 and 2018. Findings from the project revealed that men used crystal in a variety of settings and relations, which mediated their sexual practices and patterns of use. In looking at the wider context in which practices were associated with the combination of sex and drugs, we identified experiences that the contemporary discourse of chemsex-in its rhetorical proposition of at-risk behaviours and circumstances-may leave out of consideration. Our findings indicate that researchers should remain open to the variability and contingency of settings, relations and practices in gay and bisexual men's different networks when recommending public health responses to their engagement in drug-enhanced sexual activity. Accordingly, we seek to destabilise the definition of chemsex that precludes consideration of the influence of experiences beyond pre-determined risk parameters.

publication date

  • 2020