City Research Online

Adults navigating shame

O'Sullivan, S. (2023). Adults navigating shame. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Within the existing literature on chemsex there is little research exploring the phenomenon of problematic chemsex, and whilst some descriptive data on signs of problematic use exists, there is a gap in the literature when it comes to understanding the lived experience of engaging in problematic chemsex. Therefore, the current study aimed to explore the lived experience of Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and have experienced problematic chemsex. This was a qualitative study employing Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to explore and make sense of the lived experience of nine male participants. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews that explored the use of chemsex, when and how they noticed it became problematic, how they stopped and what may have contributed to their problematic use. Subsequently three superordinate themes were identified (1) The Journey to Problematic Chemsex, (2) The Function of Problematic Chemsex and (3) Making Sense of the Self. Problematic chemsex appears to be a phenomenon within the phenomenon of chemsex. Chemsex played particular roles for participants, including fulfilling their physical and emotional needs that were going unmet when sober, and so appealing there was a longing their experiences high could exist when sober. Several used chemsex to face and accept painful parts of the self and find different ways of coping and tolerating emotional distress. Implications for counselling psychology and other healthcare professionals are discussed, with suggestions for future research made.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of O'Sullivan thesis redacted PDF-A.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 30 September 2026 due to copyright restrictions.


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