Collaborative Network on Chemsex in Lisbon

In Lisbon, a coordinated and complementary response by community organisations is meeting the needs of people who practise chemsex

Male friends

While often pleasurable, the experience of chemsex may also impair decision-making, leading to a loss of inhibition, while also contributing to substance addiction and associated health and social issues – Photo by Cristyan Bohn, view profile on Instagram

By  Filipe Couto Gomes – Chemsex, as originally proposed by David Stuart in 2013, refers to the practice of using specific psychoactive substances (cathinones, gamma-hydroxybutyrate, methamphetamine) to prolong, intensify, disinhibit, diversify, or explore sexual behaviors. Chemsex practices were initially reported by men who have sex with men (MSM), often in casual sexual encounters of varying duration and number of partners.

These practices were identified following the first wave of cathinones’ popularity in Europe in the early 2010s and have progressively stabilized as part of the nightlife and sexual meeting spaces of MSM in Europe and other regions worldwide.

Since then, the original definition of chemsex, especially within professional health sectors, has expanded to avoid excluding participants of similar practices. The attention chemsex has brought to the various sexualized uses of psychoactive substances by the general population has also led to the term being increasingly heterogeneous.

In Lisbon, between 2019 and 2020, two community-based organizations (Kosmicare and GAT Portugal) and a clinical unit of the National Health Service (Consulta DiverGENTE – ICAD) reorganized and focused their intervention on the growing popularity of chemsex, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently with the resumption of international mobility.

This intervention is articulated and complementary among the three entities. A range of services is available, both in-person and remotely, for people who engage in chemsex. These services include Sexual Health (prevention, diagnosis, and access to treatment for sexually transmitted infections), Risk Reduction (counseling, materials for safer use, drug checking, treatment of injection-related injuries), and Addictions clinical support (outpatient or inpatient).

Issues involving sexual health or the use of psychoactive substances still elicit reactions of moral panic, punishment, and stigma, which are detrimental to addressing the challenges posed. Chemsex, which combines sexuality and psychoactive substance use, is both a socially and pleasure-driven dynamic environment and a practice that entails risks, necessitating interventions to mitigate these risks and provide adequate support for various difficulties that may arise.

It is essential not to reject people who use drugs but to include them in interventions that genuinely benefit them and contribute to the joint construction of knowledge, responding to the call of June 26 as the global day of action of the “Support. Don’t Punish” campaign.


Useful contacts: Kosmicare | @akosmicare; GAT Portugal | @gatportugal; GAT CheckpointLX | @gat.checkpointlx; ICAD | @icadportugal