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Chemsex (4 stars)

Timely, urgent and discomforting documentary about libido-enhancing drug use

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Chemsex

This timely, shocking and important documentary explores the increasing popularity amongst gay men of using libido-enhancing drugs during sexual encounters. The practice is seen as a significant factor in the rise of HIV diagnoses in London, while its presence on the gay party scene is becoming more and more widespread thanks to the use of online hook-up apps such as Grindr.

Following Max Daly’s 2013 Vice feature ‘The Meth-Fuelled, Week-Long Orgies Ravaging London’s Gay Sex Party Scene’, directors William Fairman and Max Gogarty (both affiliated with Vice) put out an open call for people willing to talk about their chemsex habits, both past and present. Accordingly, the film opens with around 15 individuals, each of whom are interviewed in front of (or in some cases behind) a red curtain, with the filmmakers following up on some of their subjects with more detailed to-camera interviews in their home environments. These extremely candid confessions are interspersed with footage recorded at club nights and sex-and-drug parties, some of which is exceptionally graphic.

As the subjects open up, their stories become increasingly dark and genuinely disturbing, if not downright horrifying, especially when talking about the practice of ‘getting pozzed up’, i.e. deliberately becoming HIV positive as a way of taking control over the ever-present risk of infection.

The film’s key presence is health worker David Stuart, substance use leader and counsellor at the NHS’s 56 Dean Street, the UK’s only chemsex support clinic. In a moving and insightful series of appointments he helps a fellow interviewee come to terms with both his chemsex addiction and his previously denied HIV diagnosis, and it becomes depressingly clear how one fed into the other. The hard-hitting approach to the subject matter means that Chemsex is frequently uncomfortable to watch, but there’s no denying the urgency of its central message.

Selected release from Fri 4 Dec.

Chemsex

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • UK
  • 80 min
  • 18
  • Directed by: William Fairman/Max Gogarty
  • UK release: 4 December 2015

Documentary about the increasing popularity amongst gay men of using libido-enhancing drugs during sexual encounters, which has been seen as a significant factor in the rise of HIV diagnoses in London. Hard-hitting and frequently uncomfortable to watch, but its central message is urgent.

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