Drugs, Sex, and HIV: Combating Stigma, Initiating Change

Using the right words and phrases can reduce preconceived notions of drug use, sex, and HIV.

Health Sexual Health Triston Brewer

This article was published on November 6th, 2019

Over the course of the past 30 years, there has been tremendous progress made in response to drugs, sex, and HIV both inside and outside of the LGBT community. However, there are still obstacles when it comes to combating the stigma attached to these issues. The more often accurate and reliable information is disseminated to educate the community, the less likely barriers will remain which current denies people access to the healthcare services they need.

At the onset of the AIDS crisis, it was the LGBT community that was the most demonized and vulnerable during the time. The Reagan administration initially turned a blind eye to a disease that was primarily associated with gay men. Early rumors that it only impacted men having sex with men and those that were intravenous drug users led to increased discrimination around HIV and AIDS. From the Christian right and their stance on drugs and lifestyles deemed in contraction to religion, the PNP culture and its participants encountered reduced access in healthcare facilities, hostile work environments, and other socioeconomic problems. 

The role of chemsex, also known as PNP or ‘party and play’, in the gay community has always been a heated argument, and the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the 80s made the practice of drug use to enhance sexual activity escalate even more. While there are safer sex toolkits people should use, participation in chemsex has been researched extensively and is known to significantly reduce inhibitions when used. Additionally, those engaging in chemsex often do so with several partners at a time, which exponentially increases the rate of infection. PNP-style sex can also increase the risk of infection as the thin lining of the anal cavity is more susceptible to tearing and damage, with HIV infection and other STDs more likely to result. Those that inject the most popular PNP drugs, like mephedrone and crystal meth, also increase their chances of hepatitis C infection.

For those seeking a way out and rehabilitation from the PNP lifestyle, there are options and programs available that are available from institutions offering non-judgmental support. The first step in protecting yourself is to contact a health professional to get up to date on your current status. In an emergency situation, if you are not already on PrEP, a preventative, antiretroviral drug treatment that can reduce your risk of contracting HIV by up to 99%, PEP is offered if it has been less than 72 hours after an exposure. Clinics also provide screening tests to check for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis C, and more.

The words we use to discuss the issue have improved, making the way we talk about HIV and the stigma around it a source of empowerment for those who live with the virus. By using accurate words and phrases, misinformation is reduced and preconceived notions of drug use, sex, and HIV decrease. There is support in action, and prevention is the care necessary to transform health and overall perception within and beyond the LGBT communities.

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