New research from Antidote, the UK’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender drug and alcohol support service, reveals a worrying new trend in Britain. According to the service, the number of men who injected drugs during sex has been reaching astronomic levels, from 1% in 2011 to a whopping 60% in 2018. This practice, known as slamming, is rapidly rising in popularity and experts warn that it could trigger a rise in HIV infection rates.
Antidote findings are backed up by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which has issued a warning on the rising slamming rates in the gay community. According to their latest analysis, London is the hotspot for this practice, where three times as many gay men inject drugs compared to the rest of England.
The rise of slamming can be linked to the growing popularity of chem-sex, but in this case, individuals don’t snort or swallow substances, injecting them instead to get a greater high, increased sexual pleasure, and get rid of sexual inhibitions.
The slamming practice is not illegal, but the drugs that are being injected are, so this could become a serious health issue. In addition to the harmful effects of the drugs themselves, experts warn that slamming could have devastating effects and trigger a new HIV crisis, because in most cases men exchange the same kit. Similarly, we could see a rise in drug addiction rates across the UK if this trend continues.
Why is slamming becoming more popular in the gay community?
Slamming is a relatively niche habit in the chem-sex scene – only about 15% of those who go to chem-sex parties experiment with slamming. However, in recent years, this habit has been growing in popularity and it no longer has the same stigma it did in the past.
A few years ago, slamming was rather frowned upon. Now, it’s not uncommon to go through Tinder or Grindr profiles and see users glamourise slamming, without necessarily seeing themselves as drug addicts.
Experts explain that there are many causes behind the rising slamming practice, ranging from social to emotional. First of all, the context in which people take drugs have changed and the chem-sex trend has a role to play here. According to a survey, people in the UK are more likely to combine drugs with sex than those in the US, Canada, Australia or the rest of Europe.
Addiction experts add that, apart from the rise of chem-sex, transitioning from swallowing to injecting drugs is normal addictive behaviour, because the individual builds a resistance to the drug and he’ll always look for ways to get a greater high, faster.
Another cause could be psychological. According to a French study, gay men turn to chem-sex and slamming because they are struggling with loneliness and depression, because they feel that they cannot fit in, and they find it hard to maintain relationships.
A series of interviews carried out by The Independent in the gay chem-sex community revealed that men feel a “love fusion” when they are slamming and that combined with the pleasure of intercourse, drugs help them get rid of inhibitions and feel that they are in a safe environment where they are accepted. In other words, they are using slamming to cope with emotional trauma and substitute a normal relationship. Despite the initial release, slamming is very harmful in the long run, because it only increases the risk of mental health issues.
What are the main risks associated with slamming?
The most commonly used drugs used in slamming are mephedrone and methamphetamine. Addiction experts warn that these are highly addictive, especially in a sexual context, because the brain releases double the dopamine, which makes individuals seek that high more often.
Being under the influence of drugs releases inhibitions and gives a feeling of complete liberation, but it also alters decision-making abilities. While slamming, gay men are more prone to unprotected sex, which increases the risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Then, there is, of course, the biggest risk of all: sharing used needles and kits with other participants. Doctors point out that both HIV and Hepatitis C are easily transmitted through unsafe injection techniques and the context in which slamming occurs is too dangerous to ignore. When you have large groups of men who use the same needless, spreading blood-borne infections is only a matter of time. One thing participants don’t realise is that the danger is still there, even if the needle is apparently clean and there is no blood on it. It can still be contaminated with the HIV virus and unless you are the sole person using that needle, the risk is huge.
The best way to approach and solve the problem
Whether we look at slamming from the perspective of a new HIV crisis or as a harmful practice stemming from emotional insecurity, solving the problem isn’t easy.
Although the general public is quick to accuse those who engage in slamming, members of gay and bisexual support services say that more education is needed to understand this community.
One measure that addiction services are trying to take is helping gay and bisexual men understand the risks associated with hardcore drugs and focus as much as possible on harm reduction. For example, a number of health clinics have been working more closely with the community, explaining the dangers that this practice poses for gay men and their partners. At the same time, they also started campaigns where they hand out sage packs of sterile syringes, spoons and thermometers. The needles are colour-coded, so partners don’t mix them up with their partner’s and don’t have to risk sharing used needles.
Gay and bisexual men who practice slamming and are worried about their and their partner’s health are advised to seek the help of local addiction services, because there are ways to minimise risks.
If you or a loved one needs help with a drug addiction, then feel free to call our free helpline on 0203 955 7700 and speak to one of our addiction experts who can advise you on the best course of action to live a drug free life.