The rise of chemsex: queering collective intimacy in neoliberal London

Jamie Hakim

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65 Citations (Scopus)
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Since 2011, various public health organizations have observed the growth of the sexual practice ‘chemsex’ in the UK, primarily in London. The term chemsex refers to group sexual encounters between gay and bisexual men in which the recreational drugs GHB/GBL, mephedrone and crystallized methamphetamine are consumed. This article uses a conjunctural perspective to make sense of the rise of chemsex within the historical conditions in which it has emerged. Drawing on a document analysis as well as interviews with 15 gay and bisexual men, this article argues that the rise of chemsex can be interpreted as an embodied response to material conditions shaped by neoliberalism: specifically as a desire for an intimate mode of collectivity during a historical moment when collectivity itself is being superseded by competitive individualism as the privileged mode of being in the world (Gilbert, J. [2013]. Common ground: democracy and collectivity in an Age of individualism. London: Pluto Press). In doing so, this article provides a different account to pathologizing media and medical representations of chemsex that appeared in 2015, whilst also contributing to a growing literature that attempts to map the balance of forces of the present conjuncture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-275
Number of pages27
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number2
Early online date22 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2019


  • chemsex
  • neoliberalism
  • gay and bisexual men
  • intimacy
  • London
  • collectivity

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