It’s My Partee

There already exist numerous empirical studies that tie drug use with unsafe sexual behaviors - particularly among party-loving MSM. A closer look on the same has yet to be done in the Philippines, however; so that this is a problem that could badly affect safer sex-related efforts in the country.

PnP in Focus

“You see stars. Literally.”

That, says Raul D.*, 27, was how he climaxed the first time he partook in party and play (anagrammed as PnP, p n’ p, p and p, and p&p, among others), defined as getting “engaged in sexual activities while under the influence of (usually hard) drugs and alcohol.”

“All my senses were opened; all the sensations heightened, so that when I came, it felt like… I exploded to pieces.”

And this, too, is the very appeal for most – the doubling (“Quadrupling, even,” Raul D. insists) of the sensations experienced as brought about by the combination of acts involved in PnP, all the risks (whether considered or not) shelved while the acts are done.

The practice is, by the way, nothing new; and the practitioners, not limited to only a few. But that this, as visits to social networking sites focused on men who have sex with men (MSM) – such as Grindr, PlanetRomeo.com, Fridae, and Scruff, among others – is gaining ground can be said to be true.

Beyond the clubs, gay social networking sites like PlanetRomeo.com are, of course, among the most common sources of PnP gatherings.

GETTING STARTED

In 2005, the City University, London published a research that highlighted how drug use (particularly crystal methamphetamine or crystal meth, a.k.a. shabu in the Philippines) is prevalent among gay men. At least in London, where 1,300 men (700 respondents from sexual health clinics and 500 from gyms), up to 20% have tried drugs.

On drug use, those who have tried crystal meth almost always also used other recreational drugs (E, Speed, et cetera); and drug use, in general, has long been linked with unsafe sexual practices.

Commenting on the study’s findings, Professor Jonathan Elford from City University, London, said: “(While) we don’t yet know is the nature of the association between drug use and high risk sex – it could be that some gay men follow a riskier lifestyle in general and crystal methamphetamine is simply part of this picture – (but) we need to be aware of the link between the two.”

The link has, of course, already been established.

A.M. Mattison, M.W. Ross, T. Wolfsen and D. Franklin discussed in the Journal of Substance Abuse in 2001 how just under 50% of their “well educated and financially secure” American circuit party respondents (1,169) had frequent use of E, Special K and poppers, and had unsafe sex at the circuit parties they attended (those who used poppers also had unsafe sex not just at circuit parties). In fact, the researchers “found a clear link between crystal meth use and unsafe sex. Men who used crystal meth were at least twice as likely to report unsafe sex as other men. It’s important to note that this was also true of men who used cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine.”

S.J. Lee, M. Galanter, H. Dermatis and D. McDowell – conducting a study for the Journal of Addictive Diseases in 2003 on the drug use and sexual practices of gay men attending parties – noted that 86% of their surveyed “employed and well-educated” men reported using at least one drug when partying (popular choices included E, Speed and crystal meth). Interestingly, even if 25% of the respondents self-identified as HIV-positive, drug use was “associated with significantly more receptive anal intercourse.”

Then there’s the study in the American Journal of Public Health in 2001 by G. Mansergh, G.N. Colfax, G. Marks, M. Rader, R. Guzman and S. Buchbinder, who noted that – in a three-day period circuit party – “nearly all respondents reported use of drugs, including Ecstasy (75%), Ketamine (58%), crystal meth (36%), gamma hydroxybutyrate or gamma butyrolactone (25%), and Viagra (12%). Two thirds of the men reported having sex (oral or anal), 49% reported having anal sex, and 28% reported having unprotected anal sex during the three-day period. An association was found between use of drugs and sexual risk behavior.” Interestingly, while “prevention materials were observed at party events by some men; however, relatively few men used the materials.”

These are only some of the more empirical studies that tie drug use with unsafe sexual behaviors, of course.

P.N. Halkitis, J.T. Parsons and M.J. Stirratt, writing in the Journal of Homosexuality in 2001, termed the link between the prevalence of drug use and unsafe sexual practices as a “double epidemic.”

After summarizing recent studies on the “extent, role, and context of methamphetamine use among gay men and its relationship to high risk sexual behaviors related to HIV transmission,” the researchers found that:

“Methamphetamine is often used by gay men to initiate, enhance, and prolong sexual encounters. Use of the drug is, therefore, associated with particular environments where sexual contact among gay men is promoted, such as sex clubs and large ‘circuit’ parties. Research with gay and bisexual men indicates that methamphetamine use is strongly associated with risky sexual behaviors that may transmit HIV. This relationship, coupled with emerging evidence that methamphetamine use is on the rise among gay men, suggests that the drug could exacerbate the HIV/AIDS epidemic among this community.”

With the link between partying and playing established, this is where the worry about PnP enters the picture.

HEIGHTENED EMOTIONS

Truth 1: Circuit parties are NOT that common in developing countries like the Philippines – at least not (just yet) as popular as they are in more developed countries even in Asia, such as Singapore and, heck, even Thailand.

Truth 2: Shabu is not exactly stereotypically homo-identified in the Philippines, with the image of those who use (as portrayed in the media) often – on one end of the spectrum – down-on-the-luck heterosexual males who finance their addiction with petty crimes; or – at the other end of the spectrum – well-to-do heterosexual males from bad families.

Truth 3: Unlike in Western countries, no extensive study has been done to ascertain the link between drug use and unsafe sexual practices in the Philippines.

These affect the “versions” of PnP as practiced in the country.

Raul D.’s first PnP happened “not that long ago – in 2009; maybe mid-year or sometime then,” he recalls. As a newbie in a dance club in Taguig City, he was approached by “the powers-that-be,” he says, referring to socialites who “rule” the club scene (at least the scene he was in). The night ended up with him (“Flattered as hell to have been approached”) going home with “a bunch of guys and girls, rearing to PnP.”

“Everything was a blur,” Raul D. says, unable to recall “details of things that happened. I just know that: 1) we were boozed up – aside from being high, of course, on coke; and 2) just about everyone had everyone. Everything revolved around chasing this rush, this high that none wanted to end.”

The experience “changed the game for me – I doubt ‘normal’ sex could ever attain the (heightened) feelings I had then,” he says. And due to this, PnP became the norm for him.

Nowadays, Raul D. has a circle of regular PnP “friends” who gather now and then to have fun. The gathering “move from one friend’s place to another’s – sort of like a round-robin arrangement.”

Newbies are also asked to join the group, with the “screening (of who to invite to partake in the PnP) made easier, thanks to the convenience afforded by the Net,” he laughs.

In Raul D.’s case, “condoms are always available,” he says. Using them is a different story, though, since “when you’re in the moment, in the zone, you just go with what you’re feeling like doing – if you wanna get stuffed, you’d just have somebody stuff you right then and there; opening a condom, putting it on, lubing it up, et cetera be damned (as they take too much time doing).”

WORLD WILD WEB

Beyond the clubs, gay social networking sites like PlanetRomeo.com are, of course, among the most common sources of PnP gatherings. Hernan D.*, 23, has been going to “four regular PnP groups – two in Makati City; one in Malate, Manila; and one in Quezon City – since early 2010,” he says. Three groups – Manila and Quezon City – were from GayRomeo.com, while the one in Makati City “was an offshoot of one of the PnP groups in Manila, after one of the participants decided to have his own gathering.”

The usual approach?

“Numerous accounts advertise PnP in the site (just as many people wanting to participate say so in their shoutouts, too). These are the moderators who are usually the hosts/venue providers. What you do, to begin with, is send a feeler, expressing your intent to be a participant,” Hernan D. says.

Assuming the wannabe participant passes the initial screening (“They check your online account, obviously”), he is asked to validate his worth. Usually, this is through: emailing more photographs to further prove his being good-looking, “straight-like” attributes, et cetera; providing email address used in Facebook (again, for access to more photographs that will prove worth); or giving phone number for organizers to speak with wannabe to ascertain if he has a “masculine” voice (thus not pa-girl or effeminate).

“Only after a validation can one get the date and venue of the PnP,” Hernan D. says.

From five to as many as 15 people usually congregate for any single PnP, with the number varying according to the venue [e.g. apartelles could host more, while home-based gatherings (particularly condos) tend to be more intimate and have smaller numbers of participants, at times even only for two].

What happens in the gatherings?

“Attack the senses,” says Carl R.*, 27, who “now-and-then crosses paths with Hernan D.” By this he means: “Alcoholic drinks usually abound at the venue. Then drugs enter the picture, just as games (e.g. gay version of Truth or Dare) are played. When the effects start to hit, in time for the dares, the sex begins – done either in the rooms of the venues, or wherever the libog (horniness) hits you.”

This is the “tamer version,” actually. At least so says Peter M.*, 32, a self-described “veteran of PnP.” “Most gatherings in my experience remove the (unnecessary) niceties. Soon as you arrive, chitchats are not needed – just remove some clothing while drinking while scoping out the others there, then after snorting/taking a toke/popping a pill, remove the rest of your clothing as you get dragged or you drag someone somewhere wherever to fuck. That simple.”

This transactional approach is convenient for a “fuck and run,” i.e. “Soon as you have your fill, you can leave to do the same all over again to another PnP gathering somewhere in the metro,” Peter M. says.

A NEW CHALLENGE

Depending on arrangements (and social status, thus budgetary allocations), the drugs may: be freely provided by organizer/s, be pot luck (bring your own, BYO), or be bought round-robin. The most common ones include: E, coke, marijuana and poppers (“Usually combos,” Peter M. says).

Absent in the discussions of PnP are the condoms – or at least their use.

In Raul D.’s case, “condoms are always available,” he says. Using them is a different story, though, since “when you’re in the moment, in the zone, you just go with what you’re feeling like doing – if you wanna get stuffed, you’d just have somebody stuff you right then and there; opening a condom, putting it on, lubing it up, et cetera be damned (as they take too much time doing).” Besides, he adds, “condoms feel too thick (when your senses are all heightened); might as well drop them.”

Hernan D., Carl R. and Peter M. acknowledge that “there’s always the awareness of risks involved,” with risks named including theft [“When you sober up (when in a place you are not familiar with), you may no longer have some of your things with you,” Carl R. says]; rape (“Particularly by guys you may not ‘normally’ have sex with,” Hernan D. says); and STIs (“I think I got some from these gatherings,” Peter M. says, laughing hard). This is “why the screening is important – only (seemingly) trustworthy guys are allowed,” Carl R. says.

This is problematic with STIs (including HIV and AIDS), particularly, since cases may be asymptomatic.

This is, therefore, why it needs to be closely looked at.

Asked to react on the view that PnP is both an “epidemic” and “plague” in the gay community (particularly in the West), Raul D. is defensive. “It’s not as if we’re hurting people when we do this,” he says. Reminded of STIs, among others, he turned pensive; then: “Well, if you include that in the picture…”

But not that such a worry will stop him from joining PnP gatherings.

“It’s the rush; this heady feeling that can’t be had elsewhere,” he said, smiling. Then, wistfully: “At least for as long as I’m wanted.”

And so the worrying – as long as nothing remains being done – continues.

*NAMES CHANGED AS REQUESTED FOR THE INTERVIEWEES’ PRIVACY

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