“Lots of people are seeking out our support and rely upon it”

Controlling Chemsex is a London based organisation, whose mission is to help those who are struggling with Chemsex.

Set up in February 2020 in response to an increase in demand noticed by the founders, the organisation received £4,800 through the London Community Response to help meet demand.

We spoke with Ignacio Labayen de Inza, the Founder and Director, who explains this under the radar issue and how the pandemic has changed things for their organisation and those they support.

Chemsex is the term used to describe the sexual activity between people who have taken specific drugs, under the influence of which the sexual experience is stimulated and enhanced. Over the past 15 years, Chemsex has increased world-wide, with devastating consequences for physical, mental, and sexual health, and personal safety  - including overdoses, suicides, chemsex related crimes such as sexual assaults or robbery.

Chemsex typically affects mostly gay/bi/Men who have sex with men and transgender women. Controlling Chemsex provides confidential information, practical advice and one-on-one online support to people who are struggling with Chemsex addiction. Our mission is to help those that are struggling with this reality to take control back, using any technology available to them – such as social media, 1 to 1 support via Zoom, and chemsex interventions in the most popular apps used by people who are using chems to contact each other, such as Grindr and Scruff.

Our support is about:

  • Helping people to stop/reduce their use of drugs or to minimise the risks when using Chems
  • Delivery of accurate, reliable and practical information regarding Chemsex, particularly information that covers vital areas that people struggling with Chemsex continue to search for but doesn’t yet exist
  • Helping to learn how to negotiate boundaries, especially on hook-up apps
  • Helping people to reconnect with the community and to be able to experience joy without Chems and to find different ways to explore intimacy without drugs
  • Helping to reduce the chances of catching an STIFacilitating the report and prosecution of sexual assaults and other crimes connected with Chemsex, increasing the safety and awareness of people’s rights such as consent, etc.

In order to do this, we offer:

  • Weekly 1-to-1 sessions via Zoom, for those who need structured support or brief interventions via 1-to-1 video call when someone wants to discuss something very specific
  • Permanent presence on Grindr and Scruff, brief interventions, delivery of information, answers to questions that people ask, tips and advice, and signpost people to other services that cover areas that we don’t cover (sexual health clinics, etc)
  • Crucial, hard-to-find chemsex information via a single platform: controllingchemsex.com  

The pandemic has compounded many of the interrelated issues that are connected to, and often cause or worsen, substance misuse issues (loneliness, boredom, low self-esteem, etc.). Additionally, lots of people have lost their jobs or they are now working from home, which makes much easier for them to engage with Chemsex than when they had other commitments or they personally had to go to work. Since the Pandemic started, we found that around half of the people who we are supporting have started to use drugs daily, on their own, when they had never done this before.

We have also seen that many services that usually offered traditional chemsex support in London have shut down or the help that they provide has been reduced to minimum. Now lots of people are seeking out our support and rely upon it, because it is digital first. This means our service can be accessed safely, it’s truly confidential, and available to everyone with a smartphone.

We believe that in the future this new approach regarding chemsex support based exclusively online will be much preferred than traditional services that are usually based in Drop ins, and a huge number of people couldn’t consider the idea of accessing them because of paranoia and stigma, two very important consequences of chemsex. As a result, the support we provide has become even more crucial.

As explained above, the escalation of chemsex since the pandemic started had put immense pressure on ourselves as volunteers. We were questioning if we could sustain this level of work around our day jobs and other responsibilities, and the grant from LCF has been basic to sustain the service for the rest of the year. We have now a sessional Worker on a freelance basis delivering 15 of the 35 hours of 1-to-1 key-working sessions a week, reaching around 30 people, that we provide. It has also been really helpful to buy a laptop to add to our own devices, to keep all data safe and confidential, and ensure we can deliver the service effectively.