The 2nd European ChemSex Forum, organised by International HIV Partnerships, held in Berlin from 22nd to 24th of March, called for concrete actions at the local level to provide strategic resources to chemsex responders. The aim of the Forum was to develop a platform to engage in international, cross-sector, multi-disciplinary dialogue around ChemSex-defined by the use of specific drugs (“Chems”) in a sexual context – and facilitate coordinated responses to chemsex issues in locales where chemsex related harm is a problem, regardless of its size and impact.
Clear guiding principles for the 2nd Forum were that focus was on problematic chemsex, not drug use and sex per se. Problematic chemsex is defined, as such, by the individual in interaction with his peers and care providers. Conference planners recognized that various harms related to chemsex are occurring, including HIV, hepatitis and co-infections, STIs, drug overdoses, depressions, rapes and deaths and that our work should be to address those harms forthrightly, not make generalisations about drug use or sexual behavior. Forum programme focused on 3 key work areas: therapeutic responses, team building and information gathering.
The Forum offered a platform where different stakeholders, professional and individuals could have exchanged experiences and practices in order to better address the issues coming with this new emerging phenomenon. It took place over three days. The first day was the training day on drugs and sexual experiences, risk assessment, models of behavioral change and introduction to motivational counseling, emphasizing the importance of multi-sectoral approach, community engagement and cultural competency. The following days were data and evidence day and community mobilization day that featured the latest data on ChemSex and workshops on multidisciplinary team building and information gathering.
For South East Europe, ChemSex is quite a new phenomenon in comparison to other European regions. Drug Policy Network South East Europe was represented by Irena Molnar and two member organizations HOPS and Positive voice also had their representatives. It created a space for our dialogue to widen up with this interesting and challenging topic, where not only drugs use but also sexuality and gender are important.
Antonios Poulios, PhD(c) MSc Clinical Psychologist and psychoanalyst, also the Scientific coordinator of Red Umbrella Athens and Chemsex Project of Positive Voice Greece, for DPNSEE website said that “The 2nd European ChemSex Forum was a great opportunity to get informed, discuss and meet people from all over Europe concerning ChemSex, get to know current data as well as current interventions. The training was also very helpful giving the opportunity to exchange experiences and learn from others’ expertise”. He also stated that one of the most important conclusions was the emphasis on the affective aspects of the services as well as the balance between the professional and activist point of view.
“In Greece, Chemsex is becoming gradually more common. It is already an issue in the MSMgbtq community as far as problematic use is concerned. However, there are yet quite sparse data. Positive Voice and Athens Checkpoint, in collaboration with the National Kapodistrian University of Athens (2 pathology clinics of university hospitals and the department of psychology), is conducting a project which includes research (both quantitative and qualitative) in order to assess the epidemiology of the phenomenon and the needs of the population. Additionally, focus groups are run and T-groups, self-help groups as well as personal counseling sessions are programmed to be held,” he continued.
His observations regarding ChemSex in the region of South East Europe are in favor of starting the discussion as he claims“it is a not so rare practice however not talked about, and discourse can always ameliorate the problems of action, as psychoanalysis taught us. Given the fact that most countries of SEE face a severe socio-economic crisis, which differentiates the social bond and thus the way subject is related to pleasure and enjoyment, the practice of chemsex is quite representative of this differentiation of the way the contemporary subject is placed within the social bond.”
Ivica Cekovski, advocacy associate from our member organization Healthy Options Project Skopje mentions that “The 2nd European ChemSex Forum, was a tremendous learning opportunity about the successes and challenges of the response to problematic chemsex. It was, in my experience, one of the most interesting and resourceful events that offered crucial information about information gaps, as well as the health, social and legal dimensions around this rising phenomenon.”
For the situation in Macedonia and SEE, Ivica says that is apparent that the region is lacking behind in their response to chemsex. “We have very few, if any, information about the frequency of drug use in sexual context, let alone proper interventions to support people in need. This is despite the fact that anecdotal evidence suggests that the situation might not differ a lot from other European countries.It is, therefore, urgent that we start talking about chemsex in SEE and commence with an assessment of the needs which will help us design and conduct suitable and well-targeted programmes for the wellbeing of key populations.” Ivica said.