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Psychological and Interpersonal Factors Associated with Sexualized Drug Use Among Men Who Have Sex with Men: A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review

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Chemsex—the use of specific drugs during planned sexual activity to sustain or enhance sexual functioning (Bourne et al., 2015)—is widely reported as a major public health issue among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (GBM) in Western countries. Considering current evidence surrounding Chemsex, we conducted a mixed-methods systematic review regarding psychological and interpersonal factors associated with Chemsex behaviors among GBM. Publications covering Chemsex and psychological or social variables were eligible. Theoretical papers and studies solely presenting physical health outcomes were excluded. 35 English papers published between January 2008 and June 2019 were identified through PubMed, Scopus, and PsycINFO. We performed a parallel-results convergent synthesis (Hong, Pluye, Bujold, & Wassef, 2017) on results extracted from qualitative and quantitative studies comprising the final corpus. Qualitative data suggest that six mechanisms promote Chemsex-related behaviors: dealing with painful emotions or stressful events; normalization and risk minimization of sexualized drug use; giving into interpersonal pressure or fulfilling desire for community belonging; increasing intimacy or connectedness; enhancing sexual performance and functioning; lessening interpersonal and sexual inhibitions. In quantitative reports, six variable categories emerged: sexual control and self-efficacy; sexual functioning; mental health; attitudes toward substance use; life stressors and internalized stressors; and identification with sexual identities or scenes. This review summarizes key psychological and interpersonal correlates of Chemsex among GBM. Further research is needed to replicate current findings and explore new hypotheses across multiple GBM sociodemographic groups and cultural contexts, following best practices in sampling for hard-to-reach populations.

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This research was funded by the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Université du Québec à Montréal.

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Correspondence to David Lafortune.

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Lafortune, D., Blais, M., Miller, G. et al. Psychological and Interpersonal Factors Associated with Sexualized Drug Use Among Men Who Have Sex with Men: A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review. Arch Sex Behav 50, 427–460 (2021).

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