Chemsex, Identity and Sexual Health among Gay and Bisexual Men

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This article focuses on some of the social, cultural and psychological aspects of drug use in sexualized settings in gay and bisexual men (referred to as “chemsex”). Using a narrative review approach, the article examines previous empirical research in this area and presents a novel theoretical approach for understanding and predicting chemsex behavior. Tenets of identity process theory from social psychology are drawn upon to offer an integrative theoretical framework within which the social, cultural and psychological underpinnings of chemsex can be collectively examined. Existing empirical research suggests that gay and bisexual men may experience sexuality-related stressors that can undermine feelings of self-esteem, self-efficacy, continuity and positive distinctiveness. Identity process theory examines how individuals react to threats to identity brought about by these stressors. In response to identity threat, gay and bisexual men may engage in chemsex as a coping response that encompasses and facilitates various, largely maladaptive, coping strategies and tactics. The more chemsex is perceived as enhancing identity processes and as averting identity threat, the more central it is likely to be to the identities of participants. The centrality of chemsex to one’s identity may preclude self-withdrawal from the practice. Several directions for future research are presented based on existing work on chemsex viewed through the lens of identity process theory. These should form the basis of future empirical research in the sphere of sexual health among gay and bisexual men and the outcomes of this research should inform policy and practice in this area.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12124
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sept 2022


  • Chemsex
  • Gay and bisexual men
  • identity
  • minority stress
  • mental health
  • sexual health


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