Reading the signals
Leon Knoops and Sjef Pelsser are members of the
Mainline chemsex team, based in the
Netherlands with projects at home and abroad.
Their website is a valuable resource at
Photography by nigelbrunsdon.com
Gay men can find it very difficult to seek help when ‘chemsex’
becomes addictive. Leon Knoops explored the issue at Hit Hot Topics
Chemsex is the name for combining drugs with sex.
Gay men use drugs twice as much as straight men and
a part of the dating app culture is to order drugs and
find sex parties.
The list of substances being used has grown and a
new trend is smoking crack during sex. The crystal
meth in circulation is the strongest available on the
European drugs market and it’s taken by slamming –
injecting drugs before or during sex.
In 2014 I started to interview people who had
experience and found that a lot of guys had issues –
abscesses, blue spots, sharing needles, and many were
experiencing mental health issues and sleeping
Many were finding they were unable to have sex
without drugs, and more and more men were losing
control. Some were losing their houses and
belongings, and even contemplating suicide.
It’s not done to talk to your friends about this because
of the stigma, and there’s not enough information or
expertise. So at Mainline we set up chemsex meetings
and training for professionals, including STI nurses and
consultants. There wasn’t enough cooperation initially, so
we set up a roundtable that meets twice a year to
discuss Interventions around chemsex.
The way to connect with those who need help is
to use slang and be curious. Don’t have judgement
but show support – there can be many underlying
issues such as loneliness. Let’s work together to
improve the situation.
‘I felt the connection
and couldn’t stop’
Sjef Pelsser offered valuable insight by sharing his own experience
I had a great job, working for an airline in Holland. I
had a lovely partner, my husband. I earned a lot of
money and had several apartments.
But something went wrong – there were cracks in
our relationship. I decided to end it and fled to an
apartment in Sitges. At 53, I felt overdue on the gay
scene, but it was easy to install the dating apps. I met
a guy in Barcelona – a man smoking a pipe. He gave it
me to try and I thought it was part of the game.
The effects hit my body and before I knew I had had
sex for four days and three nights. I thought holy shit,
what is this? And I loved it. But I was worried it would
cost me my job – we were not allowed to fly with any
substances in our bodies. I had to fly to Toronto, so I
thought I’d see if they have the same there – and they
did. It was the beginning of my world tour.
I felt the connection and I started smoking crystal
meth. Then I was offered injecting and didn’t at first
– but when I started slamming, the rush I felt was
incredible. I wanted more sex, more guys, I wanted it
to go on forever.
But as I came down I had severe depression. My
weight went down. I was looking for information, but
all I could find was American sites with all those pics
of crystal meth users, and I thought ‘that’s not me’.
So I kept going and met other guys, and I enjoyed
the connection. When my mother died, I was partying
in Toronto. I was raped and I thought that was part of
it. I couldn’t go to the police and tell them I’d been
taking crystal meth. A lot of people tried to help me,
but I didn’t want to help myself because I was so into
the connection with those guys.
But I was pulled over in Amsterdam and found
with drugs. I found myself in jail.
‘At 53, I felt overdue on
the gay scene, but it
was easy to install the
I went to 12-step groups and to addiction
counselling. What I was looking for was for people to
listen to me, know what I was going through and not
judge me. People were judging me because I was part
of the gay chemsex scene.
My mission now at Mainline is to find people and
help them. I won’t judge them – I already judged myself.
February 2019 | drinkanddrugsnews | 9