In the most recent addition of Howard Brown's Research Breakfast Series, Dr. Jeffrey Parsons, a professor of psychology at Hunter College of the City University of New York and director of the Center for HIV/AIDS Educational Studies and Training, presented hot-off-the-field data to give a glimpse into the connections often made between methamphetamine and sex.
In 'Methamphetamine and Sexuality among MSM: What's the Connection?' Parsons discussed an ongoing study of meth and other club drug use among gay/bi young adults, ages 18-29. The study follows 400 club drug users in the New York area over the course of one year, stratified by gender and sexual orientation. The morning's discussion focused mainly on the 100 gay/bi young men studied.
Although only an initial wave of data has been analyzed, many interesting findings have popped up as the study takes place. For instance, Parsons said, although the link between meth use and sex is perceived to be causal, 'it's not as clear-cut as it's often perceived to be,' he said.
Simply put, it's not all about sex. Through the interviews with these young club drug users, there are a variety of motivations that lead to meth use, such as socialization, changing one's behavior and impacting one's emotional state. Parsons added that these motivations, whether they are to act more social at parties or to escape loneliness, are similar to the motivations to use other drugs.
Out of the 100 gay/bi men studied, most are using meth twice a month. Roughly 42 percent reported ever combining the drug with sex.
Parsons is also finding that use of meth heightens the likelihood of the user taking other club drugs, such as Ecstasy or cocaine, at least in the dance club setting these participants were found in.
A striking find was that many of the participants expressed that they accidentally took meth. 'A lot mistake it for coke,' Parsons said.
One-third of those that first took meth in a social setting such as a dance club or bar reported accidental meth usage. Several also knew very little about the drug prior to using it for the first time, leading Parsons to believe that there needs to be more effort to provide basic education about the drug, such as what it is, what it looks like and how it is different from other drugs, such as cocaine.
Many of the participants ( one-third ) also made frequent comparisons between meth and cocaine. 'Cocaine was viewed as being better than crystal, in part because they felt like they had more control,' he said, adding that many also expressed that cocaine use was viewed as better than meth use, due to the stigma attached to crystal. In follow-up interviews, some participants reported increasing their cocaine use, while tapering off their meth use. 'And they will justify it by saying, 'At least I'm not a tweaker,'' Parsons continued.
In terms of sex, nearly 15 percent of the men reported combining sex and meth their first time using. Overall, 42.6 percent of the men eventually combined the two. The twenty-three participants who spoke about their last experience combining sex and meth expressed an increase in sexual desire, a decrease in inhibitions and a sense of guilt afterwards.
What Parsons also found was that not all participants connected meth to sex, and in fact, there was a lot of variability. 'It's not like the drug suddenly turns all people sexual,' he added.
'Crystal is not necessarily an absolute risk factor for unprotected or otherwise risky sexual behavior,' Parsons continued.
Although the study is ongoing, and the data is still fresh and new, Parsons said that what has been found so far has some implications. He suggested that campaigns targeting young people should not focus solely on HIV/AIDS, and dance clubs should perhaps be targeted in addition to sex clubs. He also stressed that basic education about the drug needs to occur.