Home HIV Testing

We’ve come a long way in the HIV pandemic. When I first started working in the field in 1986/87 everyone was super concerned that HIV testing needed pre and post test counselling and there was no way you would even get your results texted to you, you had to go back to the clinic, normally after an incredibly stressful two week wait. In fact, even today there is still a two week delay in getting results for an HIV test from many clinics. Including some in London.

What is that about actually? TWO WEEKS? Most other tests come back whilst at the clinic, but HIV tests seem to take forever.

However, we’ve just seen the launch of an HIV Home Testing kit where you can, with 99.7% accuracy determine if you have been infected with HIV. It’s a simple finger prick test like those used in the rapid testing clinics (i.e. at Dean Street Express) but this one takes around 15 mins rather than 2 mins. Having said that, it’s a whole lot faster than waiting TWO WEEKS! biosure It means of course, you’re probably learning the information on your own without a trained health care professional there to ensure you understand the impact of this news and to answer any of your questions.  It tests for HIV antibodies and so you still need to wait for 8 weeks since your last risk exposure.

You could also have other STI’s which won’t be picked up and so it’s no substitute for regular sexual health checks.  But I think it has it’s place. The pack itself is very straightforward and well put together.

There are very clear instructions and everything can be safely disposed of in your household waste as there are no sharps and the tiny drop of blood used is contained in the testing device so presents no risk. It could offer great peace of mind for people – especially those who live some distance from rapid testing clinics and who are willing to spend the £30 necessary to acquire the kit.

I was sent my test kit to review via the lovely people at Freedoms who apparently have temporarily sold out of these kits.  I guess that shows how popular they are!

Dominic Davies

Sober Sex – some ideas for moving forwards

Dominic Davies speaking at Gay Sex & Drugs

Dominic Davies speaking at Gay Sex & Drugs

I want to talk about Sober Sex which is I know from my clients is a huge challenge for many guys who are trying to stop or recover from Chemsex.

I come to this topic as a clinical sexologist – which means I’ve studied a wide range of sexualities and worked with a lot of people over my 30+ year career as a therapist, helping them with a range of sexual problems. I’m also coming to this topic as someone who has been a sexual adventurer exploring alternative sexual practices and lifestyles from the inside.

It was quite shocking to read this morning that Crystal Meth gives someone 1250 units of dopamine compared to the 200 units released during sex. It got me thinking…. how do they measure this? I’ve had plenty of mind blowing sex and it’s really hard for me to imagine the high that Meth would give me that could beat that.

I’ve also occasionally had some very mediocre sex. I wonder if the 200 unit measure was from the kind of very ordinary mundane sex, the kind that you want over and done with so you can get to sleep as you have an early start in the morning.

But the point of the article was more about the down-regulation of the dopamine receptors as a result of having been overloaded with Meth and how it’s hard to feel normal happiness and pleasure again.

I’m quite an optimist and I am wondering if that’s actually true and permanent or if that can be fixed?  I’m wondering whether nutritional therapies like Tyrosine which is an amino acid and works as a precursor to dopamine could increase Dopamine and restimulate the neurochemistry?  So perhaps it’s worth consulting a Clinical Nutritionist for advice.

I’m also wondering if some of the forms of sexual intimacy and sexual healing that exist out there might help people discover sexual intimacy sober. I’m thinking of some of the work done by  Gay Tantra masseurs or Kundalini yoga teachers, by the practitioners at Authentic Eros and Gay Love Spirit or the upcoming Quintessential Queer Hearted festival or in October the Love Spirit festival happening later this year and people skilled with playing with sexual energy at Queer Conscious Sex.  There is also playing with power and sensation through consensual BDSM. You might also want to consider erotic hypnosis which can create altered states of consciousness and mindfulness meditation too. All of these I’ve found to be able to change the experience of sex and one’s relationship to one’s body.

I’d encourage those of you struggling to have sex sober to explore these kinds of things. I’d also urge queer practitioners of any of these different disciplines to offer their services to build a body of knowledge and experience of what works.  I’d really love to hear more about this from anyone on the journey.

Intense, intimate and passionate sober sex IS, I believe entirely possible.  It may not have the intensity of being super high masturbating to porn at a Sex Party with four guys on Grindr, one obsessively polishing the bathroom mirror and another passed out in a G-hole, but I am hopeful there could be some amazing experiences ahead if you want to explore what sober intimacy and sexual energy can do.

I’ve no direct connection to the groups I’ve linked to here, other than knowing they exist and having met some of the people involved as well as some of the people who’ve benefitted from the experience.

Dominic Davies
Director

This is a version of the open mic contribution I made at the Facebook event Let’s Talk about Gay Sex and Drugs on 9 June

Some thoughts on why Chemsex is increasing in London.

I was invited to speak for five minutes at a community outreach initiative on Chemsex at the Manbar tonight.

Some thoughts
I’m a psychotherapist and a sex therapist – who has worked with our communities for over 30 years. I’m Director of Pink Therapy which is the UK’s largest independent organisation to work with our the LGBTQ and Alternative Sexualities communities.

Currently, around half my practice is working with guys who are using or have been involved in Chemsex. It wasn’t like that even two years ago. Whilst there have always been clients who use drugs recreationally in a sexual context, the current situation of Chemsex (specifiCrystal_crack_pipecally Meth, Meph and G) is producing some unique challenges and situations.

I’m learning all the time, from my clients, my friends, my sexual partners and my colleagues about what’s going on here and I’ve been wondering why this has become such a big issue so quickly.

Everyone’s story is of course unique which is why I love my work and have never got bored, and I won’t be breaching any professional confidences here tonight. There are clearly lots of reasons why this is going on.

I have been reading the new Sigma research report which came out on Friday with keen interest and I am seeing what they found in my own practice.

A number of people who have got into trouble with Chemsex have had psychosexual performance difficulties: for example, problems with rapid ejaculation disappear on Chems and men can have sex for hours. This in fact can lead to the opposite problem, not being able to cum and so having to find more guys to have sex with in the hope that they will eventually reach a happy ending.

Concerns about bodies, dick size, what they see as their shameful kinky sexual desires all fade into the background when people get high.

Others report trauma over HIV disclosure and rejection from negative guys who don’t realise what ‘undetectable’ now means.

Most guys do it because sex on Chems feels great,. But then find they can’t remember how to have sex sober, or tell me they’ve never had enjoyable sex sober.

More depressingly they don’t believe anyone would want to have sex with them sober, so prevalent is the availability of Chemsex in some parts of London, and sometimes of the day/night that it’s hard to use sexual networking apps and find guys who aren’t high.

Some men hope to meet someone they really connect with, find a boyfriend and leave the party scene. The drugs give them a sense of intimacy and connection but they find that closeness and connection hard to sustain when they come down.

I’m concerned that by inconsistently taking their anti-retroviral medication many positive guys might well think they’re undetectable because they were when they last had their bloods checked 6 months ago, but the virus has been replicating and unwittingly they might be passing the virus on to a new generation – where smart people understand that a a stable and undetectable viral load means they’re pretty safe to fuck without condoms, but still we see the figures of new cases of HIV climbing through the roof. On average 20 new cases of HIV diagnosed a week in London, and where are the support groups for this many guys, THT?

But the thing that concerns me most though, is how the Benefits Agency are closing in on Long Term Survivors.

Many HIV +ve guys have been on fairly substantial disability benefits for decades awarded at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic when everyone expected them to die.

In the 90’s getting high levels of disability benefits was relatively easy. Unlimited tube and bus travel, perhaps a new Motability car every few years, and Carers allowances meant they could afford not to worry about returning to work when their health stabilised. These benefits will not only be lost once they get reviewed and reassessed as fit for work. They may face fraud investigations for not advising of a change in circumstances.

These men probably, in their 40s-50’s have been out of the workforce for such a long time and may have little chance of finding work especially as we’re in the middle of a recession.

How easy it would be to just take a larger dose of G and end it all – maybe alone, maybe at a party in an ‘accidental’ overdose. This is a frightening prospect.

David Hoyle refers to gay men as being The Greatest Suicide Cult in History. Perhaps THIS is what we’re seeing in the increasing use of Chems and sex? A bunch of gay guys about to lose their benefits and with little prospect of work. Why wouldn’t they be dancing on the Titanic?

What is our multimillion pound HIV charity doing to prepare and support these long term survivors and offer help and hope?

Dominic Davies
Director

Sex and Drugs and No Rock and Roll

ImageHIV diagnoses in London last year, were up 21% on the previous year.  A staggering 1720 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in London alone which averages out at about five gay men being told every day that they’re HIV +ve and will soon have to spend the rest of their lives on medication.

I’m a close follower of the work of Antidote (they’re the specialist LGBT drugs and alcohol agency in London and part of London Friend) and I have learned a lot from them over the past couple of years.  I’d encourage you to follow David Stuart on Twitter.  https://twitter.com/davidastuart 

It’s my belief that this huge increase has come about through an increase in ChemSex (specifically the use of Crystal Meth, Mephedrone and GHB/GBL).  There is plenty of info online if you want to understand more about these drugs and if you’re a therapist, working in London or perhaps other major cities with large gay male populations I encourage you to do so.

Whilst all of the above is pretty damn terrible and we can speculate about WHY this new epidemic is happening, and I certainly have some theories of my own, (which I might blog about some other time) what’s prompted me to sit down at the computer tonight is to wonder aloud that there’s millions of pounds worth of HIV Prevention funds out there; how much of it is being directed toward the services that are targeting this most-at-risk group?

Around 25 people a week are diagnosed HIV +ve in London and whilst they may not all want to seek peer support in an 8 week group, or attend 1:1 counselling, I think it’s very unlikely that Terrence Higgins Trust has the resources available in service provision to deal with this new epidemic, but they have the lion share of the money.

As far as I can tell from the THT website there is ONE newly diagnosed group running in London and a low cost counselling service available at THT (counselling used to be free). PACE’s services have been cut, GMFA has lost it’s funding despite in my view an excellent track record in innovative HIV prevention.  The NHS psychologists at the Sexual Health Clinics are over stretched and over capacity are unable to meet the demands.

Some good news is, that there is an innovative Club Drug Clinic who have spotted and been responding to this new epidemic along with Antidote and the CODE Clinic held at 56 Dean Street and helping people manage their drug use for a while now.  So work IS being done on prevention.  I am just particularly concerned about service provision and support for the newly diagnosed.

Lest anyone thinks I’m making this post as a way of trying to drum up trade for people seeing private therapists, I’m not sure there is sufficient specialist knowledge amongst the private therapists on our Directory to manage to meet the demand or to deal with some of the complexities of people who’ve become infected through chemsex.  Having said that I am well aware that there are a quite a few of us who were working as therapists in the first AIDS epidemic in the mid-late 80’s.

I’m asking whether we as a community of service providers are ready, willing and able to respond to this new epidemic?

So now I am going to plug something!  Pink Therapy is for the second year, running a one day workshop looking at the many different motivations behind people abandoning condoms and how to work in a non-judgmental way to help these people set their own goals and work to them.  Places are ridiculously limited and so early booking is advised.

Dominic Davies
Director – Pink Therapy