New data into the connections between drug use and sexual behaviours among gay and bisexual men has been released in the latest research articles coming out of the Kirby Institute’s Flux Study. Three journal articles, all published in the International Journal of Drug Policy’s special issue on Sexualised Drug Use, provide an evaluation of the often controversial topic of ‘chemsex,’ or using licit and illicit drugs to enhance sexual pleasure.
Flux, which stands for ‘Following Lives Undergoing Change,’ is a study headed up by the Kirby Institute. It is Australia’s first cohort study of drug use among gay and bisexual men, and one of the world’s largest. Over 3,000 men have joined the study, and participants complete an extensive online survey every six months. Flux monitors changes in drug use and associated harms, beliefs and attitudes, and engagement within gay community networks over time. The study aims to address the significant research gaps surrounding licit and illicit drug use within these communities.
“Flux is a translational research study that is allowing us to engage men across Australia who participate in activities that often are not readily discussed. Not only can we identify potential harms to ultimately develop strategies to mitigate these risks, but we can also explore in detail the pleasures many men derive from drugs used for sex…an often taboo or pathologised topic”, explains Mohamed Hammoud from the Kirby Institute’s HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program, who is the Senior Research Officer leading the Flux Study.
Condomless anal intercourse with casual male partners is the primary risk factor for HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) infection among gay and bisexual men, and chemsex is already identified to be associated with sexual risk behaviour. The study has identified a need for more targeted gay community based interventions to mitigate sexual risk behaviour. Existing strategies such as ACON’s safe sex party packs, which consist of condoms, gloves, silicon lubricant, cock rings, tips and information on how to make partying safe and fun, and emergency contact numbers, could be expanded to include needle and syringe program information. Importantly, this research can also inform the implementation of strategies within needle and syringe programs to reorient their services to better meet the needs of gay and bisexual men who inject drugs.
The study has also indicated that with education, this population self-mitigates risks to their long-term health, namely by introducing PrEP into chemsex activities in order to actively reduce the possibility of HIV transmission during chemsex. A popular combination is MTV – using methamphetamine, Truvada™ (PrEP) and Viagra™ to play safe.
“What we’re learning with the Flux Study is that although some gay and bisexual men engage in activities commonly considered ‘risky’, the majority do so infrequently and with no indication of harm. They are readily interested in protecting themselves against long-term health implications, such as HIV, HCV and other STIs”, says Hammoud. “It’s vital to acknowledge that ‘risk’ activities will always take place, and, through reliable research and community education, we can develop methods and programs to lower health risks and reduce any associated harms.”
- The new MTV generation: Using methamphetamine, Truvada™, and Viagra™ to enhance sex and stay safe, International Journal of Drug Policy, March 2018
- Mental health, drug use and sexual risk behavior among gay and bisexual men, International Journal of Drug Policy, March 2018
- Prevalence and correlates of recent injecting drug use among gay and bisexual men in Australia: Results from the FLUX study, International Journal of Drug Policy, March 2018