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Meet the former soldier who lost a year to London’s chemsex scene

Meet the former soldier who lost a year to London’s chemsex scene

When army veteran James Wharton moved back to London after a break-up, he found himself experiencing the highs and lows of the city’s chemsex scene…

‘I joined the army when I was 16. I’d always wanted to be a soldier, and I started on troop service in Knightsbridge, riding a horse and carrying a sword on The Mall with the Queen. To go in the space of a year from a council estate in north Wales to being one of those soldiers on a beautiful horse was quite a culture shock.

After ten years in the army I left, wanting to do something else and prioritise my marriage. I moved to Windsor with my husband and our two dogs. But when we broke up a year later I ended up coming back to London. I moved into in a houseshare in Kentish Town and emerged back into the gay community. One night, someone invited me back to their flat. There were a lot of guys there, and a lot of drugs. I had stumbled into the London chemsex scene.

‘I lost 2015 to chemsex. I don’t even remember it, really’

The drugs were quite different to the drugs I’d known ten years earlier. It’s now mephedrone, crystal meth and G (GHB or GBL), which is like a liquid ecstasy. They’re addictive, of course, but the really addictive thing is the culture. It has all the things a vulnerable, insecure gay man looking for intimacy might become sucked into.

If you’ve just come from a relationship breakdown and find yourself with lots of good-looking strangers who are all interested in you, you can see how that might be an exciting situation. And you’re all taking the same drugs – inhibition-lowering, libido-enhancing chemicals, so you can have sex with everybody. Is it any wonder a lot of gay men have gone mad for that?

Something people don’t always realise is that the whole chemsex culture depends on your phone. I could update my Grindr profile to say that I’m having an ‘H&H’ party, which stands for ‘horny and high’. People would start messaging and then get an Uber over. I could use WhatsApp to order the substances I wanted and transfer the money to the dealer’s account immediately. Before you know it, you’ve got six people in your flat doing chemsex. One weekend I had about 35 people round and I stayed up for five days.

‘One gay man in London dies every 12 days from drugs associated with chemsex’

I lost 2015 to chemsex, without a doubt. I don’t even remember it, really. But I got to a point where I realised that I’d stopped doing the things I loved. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen my family back in Wales. I was constantly tired and looking like shit. I started to think: I’m not happy. I was getting gratification off the attention, but there always has to be a comedown.

Here’s an awful statistic: one gay man in London dies every 12 days as a result of taking drugs associated with chemsex. I was able to get help at the right time, and now I can confidently say that I’ve gone through chemsex addiction and come out the other side.

That’s why I decided to write about about my experience. I learned that there are some wonderful people out there providing support – they hold the keys to getting other people out of it. Like I said, every drug has a comedown. And when people are ready to come down and access support, I hope the book does a good job of reassuring them that they’re not alone.’

‘Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld’ by James Wharton is out now, published by Biteback Books. For advice and support on chemsex, visit 56 Dean St.

Now discover Time Out’s guide to LGBT+ London.

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Comments

2 comments
Eudonni M

This is such a sad and similar story to many other gay men who live in London. I work with Antidote, part of 'London Friend' who work with members of the LGBT community who are looking for help out of the chem sex scene. 

Dudden H

Chemex is a big problem in the gay community.