4: Chemsex among gay men living with HIV aged over 45 in England and Italy: sociality and pleasure in times of undetectability

In recent years, chemsex has become the object of intense public scrutiny, mainly based on pathologising and panic-raising narratives. Building on critical contributions across the social sciences and cultural studies, the chapter focuses on an underexplored dimension within the literature on chemsex: ageing with HIV. Centred around the narratives of self-identified gay men living with HIV, aged over 45 and who practise chemsex, in England and Italy, the chapter analyses the relationship between their life courses and their engagement with chemsex. Data analysis reveals how research participants frame their engagement with chemsex as driven by the quest for sociality combined with a rediscovery of sexual pleasure and an improved sense of comfort with their bodies resulting from the emergence of the paradigm of undetectability. However, through the adoption of an intergenerational and intersectional perspective, the chapter reveals also ambivalences and tensions within participants’ engagement with chemsex.

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