A new study was released recently that examined changes in sexual behaviour among London gay men between 1998 and 2003.
The study interviewed over 4,000 gay men using London gyms and collected information on HIV status, unprotected anal sex in the previous three months and the type of sexual partner for unprotected anal sex.
High-risk sexual behaviour was defined in this study as unprotected anal sex with a partner of unknown or discordant HIV status.
The results were interesting to say the least.
Over the time of the survey, the percentage of men reporting high-risk sexual behaviour with a casual partner increased from 6.7 percent to 16.1 percent.
These patterns were seen for HIV-positive, negative and never tested men alike, regardless of age. Interestingly, the percentage of HIV-positive men reporting unprotected anal sex with a casual partner who was also HIV-positive increased from 6.8 percent to 10.3 percent.
Now you may wonder why this study is being mentioned in a drug column. The trend towards gay men taking part in high-risk sexual behaviour appears to be on the increase across the world, with studies in Australia, Canada and the US reflecting this trend.
However, when the results have been made public in those countries, the drug crystal always seems to get a mention, usually as one of the theories behind why this phenomenon is occurring.
Interestingly, when the authors wrote their discussion section for the paper there was no mention of crystal, mainly due to the fact that the drug is rarely seen in the UK.
Could it be that there are other factors than just a drug that are contributing to a rise in high-risk sex?
The authors believe that factors such as the optimism around new treatments for HIV, the increased opportunity in recent years for meeting sexual partners in saunas, backrooms and particularly the internet, or the fact that gay men could simply have become over-accustomed to the risk of HIV, could have played a part.
Whatever it is, it does not appear to be as simple as crystal has caused the problem -“ which unfortunately is very much the argument that we have seen from some quarters.
Crystal causes many problems and some people feel totally disinhibited on the drug and make decisions while they are on it that they wouldn’t otherwise.
However, to paint crystal as the next plague is dangerous. Crystal is a very pure drug (often 80 percent purity) and it is usually administered in a way that ensures the drug reaches the brain quickly (either smoked or injected).
This increases the risk of dependence and also psychosis.
All drug use entails some degree of risk, and crystal is indeed far more problematic than some others, but let’s make sure we look at the whole story, particularly around unsafe sexual behaviour.
Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug and, no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?