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ID: HR19-481

Presenting author: Jay Levy

Presenting author biography:

Jay is the Deputy Director of INPUD. He has worked with the African Medical and Research Foundation, as a consultant for the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, and as a supervisor for undergraduates at Cambridge University, where he holds a PhD, an MPhil, and an MA.

Chemsex: A Case Study of Drug-Userphobia

Jay Levy

Chemsex has been subject to increasing stigmatising media coverage. Drug use and chemsex are frequently moralised and positioned as problematic, as activities which are dangerous, harmful, and destructive in-and-of-themselves. Drug use is framed as a threat to the community.

This paper focusses illustratively on a consultation undertaken in South Africa by INPUD. The consultation took place during the formation of a new Capetonian network of people who use drugs, in Cape Town where there has been a thriving chemsex community for well over a decade.

Key Arguments
People who have chemsex experience discrimination from non-community members and additionally from community members who may want to distance themselves from the compound stigma associated with those who chemsex. This ‘stigma distancing’ is compounded again by internalised stigmatisation. Stigma – and criminalisation of people who use drugs – informs considerable discrimination perpetrated by service and healthcare providers. People who have chemsex require service and healthcare provision that is well suited to their nuanced and variable requirements. Yet services frequently fall short of being comprehensive or holistic. Instead, harm reduction services may not have facilities and services that engage with chemsex, and services for sexual and reproductive health may not engage with drug use, chemsex, and/or harm reduction services. This is compounded by the fact that there are few safe spaces to have chemsex.

Outcome and Implications
This community have been subject to a moral panic in the media, playing on stereotypes and discriminatory fears about marginalised communities that bear extremely uncomfortable similarities with the moral panics surrounding HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. And like the AIDS panics, the voice of the community has been notably disempowered and silenced in discussions that relate to this community. People who have chemsex must have a voice which truly represents their community.