BIROn - Birkbeck Institutional Research Online

    The Chemsex ‘Consent Ladder’ in male sex work: perspectives of health providers on derailment and empowerment

    Brooks-Gordon, Belinda and Ebbitt, E. (2021) The Chemsex ‘Consent Ladder’ in male sex work: perspectives of health providers on derailment and empowerment. Social Sciences 10 (2), p. 69. ISSN 2076-0760.

    42976.pdf - Published Version of Record
    Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

    Download (490kB) | Preview


    Sexualized substance use or ‘chemsex’ is a key element in the syndemic of violence and infection in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. Chemsex is more prolific amongst men who have sex with men but is also associated with high risk behaviours that can negatively impact on health and wellbeing in heterosexual, bisexual men and women, and in homosexual women too. This qualitative study investigated perceptions and experiences of chemsex, motivations, cisgender male sex work, consent, economic exploitation, and ways to address and reduce harms. We conducted semi-structured interviews with health care providers and their clients—including sex workers and their customers (n = 14) between the ages of 28 and 46 years following a purposive sampling strategy. Interview topics included perceptions and experiences of chemsex use, reasons for drug use and chemsex, and proposals to address harms associated with chemsex in the UK. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, coded, and analysed using Grounded Theory. The findings revealed a stepwise process of chemsex use in a ‘ladder of consent’, whereby the process starts with willing participation that is both highly pleasurable and controllable. Sexual polydrug activity often descended in rungs so that lines of consent became blurred, and even broken, resulting in physical detriment and financial exploitation. Strategies for elevation back up the consent ladder also emerged. The findings clarify the conditions of willing participation, the stepwise relationship to exploitation, and the support strategies that help re-empower individuals whose lives get taken over by chemsex, including peer-to-peer support, poly-centres, and smartphone apps to climb back up the consent ladder to improve the health, safety, and social rights of sex workers.


    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): consent, chemsex, sex work, MSW, men who have sex with men, MSM, qualitative, Grounded Theory
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Science > School of Psychological Sciences
    Depositing User: Administrator
    Date Deposited: 11 Feb 2021 11:28
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 18:07


    Activity Overview
    6 month trend
    6 month trend

    Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.

    Archive Staff Only (login required)

    Edit/View Item Edit/View Item