Sex, drugs, and fitness?

Controlling Chemsex are providing much needed help to gay men who are struggling with issues surrounding the use of chems.

Sex, drugs, and fitness?

Queer fitness classes for mature guys can play an important role in tackling loneliness. If you’re struggling with issues relating to use of chems, they could also help you to develop healthy habits and take back control of your life.

Mature Strength is the brainchild of Mark Hughes – the man behind queer fitness community, Workout With Pride.

“We recently had a fundraising drive for the charity Opening Doors…” explains Mark. “It highlighted for me that even though we try to be as inclusive as possible, we weren’t attracting many older queer people to our fitness classes.”

“As we get older, we all need to continue to work on maintaining our mobility…” adds Mark. “Our new Mature Strength classes are a slowed-down workout that lets everyone go at their own pace.”

“Not only do we start to lose muscle mass as the years go by, but maintaining our social connections also seems to get harder…” continues Mark. “Personally, I’m a total home-boy – I really have to push myself to go out and meet people. It gets harder and harder to make new friends. That’s another reason that I’m excited about the potential of the Mature Strength classes – it’s not just the fitness benefits but the social benefits that we can offer to everyone.”

Research conducted by Opening Doors found that 51% of older LGBTQ people in the UK reported that their mental health and emotional wellbeing was less-than good.

“Low self-esteem is one of the most common barriers we encounter that prevents people joining a fitness class…” explains Mark. “People are worried that they’re not fit enough to join, that they’re not going to know anyone, or that they’re just feeling too down to face it. I sometimes have to battle those kinds of thoughts – and I’m the one leading the class! My advice is always that the only person that you have to impress at a fitness class is yourself – show up and do as much as you can. That’s all you need to do.”

One of the charities that has benefited from the fundraising activities of the Workout With Pride fitness community is Controlling Chemsex. The London-based charity provides free support to people struggling with issues resulting from their use of chems.

“Building healthy habits is a really useful way for people to take back control of their life and keep their use of chems under control…” explains Ignacio Labayen De Inza, the founder of Controlling Chemsex. “Fitness classes such as those provided by Workout With Pride not only provide really important fitness benefits, but they also give you the kind of structure and accountability that help to keep you in a positive headspace and away from the drugs.”

“I’ve had a number of friends who have struggled with issues relating to the use of chems…” says Mark. “I know first-hand how important the work Controlling Chemsex is doing is for our community. The combination of sex and drugs and our need for intimacy can really mess with your head and lead you to some dark places. Our classes are always a safe and supportive space for everyone – whatever personal struggles you might be grappling with.”

What is chemsex?

‘Chemsex’ is the term used to describe sexual activity between people who have taken specific drugs (chems) including crystal methamphetamine, mephedrone, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) or gamma-Butyrolactone (GBL) – these drugs can enable an enhanced sexual experience but they are highly addictive and come with significant health risks.

What are the risks associated with chemsex?

  • Physical health: Accidents and injuries, nutritional issues, lungs and heart diseases, dental problems, disrupted sleeping patterns.
  • Mental health: High levels of depression, anxiety, or psychotic episodes such as paranoia or hallucinations.
  • Emotional health: Issues such as isolation, domestic and relationship issues, low self-esteem or inability to focus or make decisions.
  • Sexual health: High risks of transmissions and infections of HIV, HEP-C and other Sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, gonorrhoea. Chemsex users are also at risk of poor adherence to HIV medication – potentially jeopardising their Undetectable status.
  • Financial issues and unemployment.
  • Personal safety: such as overdoses, sexual assault, theft, or self-harm.
  • Legal issues – buying, selling, possessing and selling these drugs is illegal.

Tips on how to control your chems use

  • Review your bio details on hook-up apps. Be explicit that you’re not interested in chems. Simply putting “No H&H” in your bio, for example, will limit the amount of temptation that comes your way.
  • Set limits on your use of hook-up apps. We’re at our most vulnerable when we’re searching for intimacy – particularly when it’s late at night and we’re feeling alone and isolated. If you’ve set yourself a rule that you’re not going to look at hook-up apps after 10 PM, have a plan for other things you can do if you’re awake and can’t sleep. It could be as simple as having some good porn on standby so you can masturbate and get the horniness out of your system.
  • Don’t forget that if you think it could be helpful you can disable your phone to block downloading and use of apps or websites with specific content (sexual, gambling, etc) using parental controls. You can find out how to do this by Googling ‘parental control iPhone’ or ‘apps parental control for Android’, or also downloading specific apps for this purpose, and prevent the cycle of deleting and downloading the apps.
  • Know your triggers.The biggest risk of a relapse often comes from friends or fuck-buddies that we’ve had good times with in the past. Odds are, you’re going to get an unexpected WhatsApp message asking if you’re up for some fun. Knowing that this trigger is going to present itself, have your coping mechanism ready to go – have a “no thanks” reply saved in your drafts, have someone lined up who you can call, have some porn ready to watch.
  • Keep a clear head. We tend to make poor choices when we’ve got a few drinks under our belt. Try to minimise your alcohol intake.
  • Keep yourself busy. If we’re feeling isolated and alone, and it feels like there’s nothing to do, then a chemsex session will seem increasingly appealing. Set yourself a list of tasks for the day. It could be as simple as reorganising your sock draw or as complicated as making some fresh pasta. There’s always something to do, if you set your mind to it.
  • If you do have a relapse, don’t beat yourself up too much. Slip-ups happen. Activate your support network and learn from it.

If you, or a friend or loved one, is struggling with chems, contact Controlling Chemsex to find out what support is available in your area.

Image from the 2023 London production of Jock Night, by Adam Zane.

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