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culture

The AIDS Committee of Toronto Encourages Men To Show Some Spunk

ACT creates a new support group to help men wanting to pull back on their drug use during sexual activities.

Spunk is a new support group that’s been started by ACT, the AIDS Committee of Toronto, for gay and bisexual men who want to better manage their drug and alcohol use, especially during sex.

In slang, a session of having sex while under the influence of drugs—often, but not limited to, meth—is know as “party n’ play,” shortened to PnP. One problem with PnP is that it leads to “risk-taking behaviour” due to the drug use, says Adam Busch, Gay Youth and Gay Men’s Harm Reduction Coordinator for ACT, who has shepherded the creation of Spunk. Predominantly (but not exclusively) associated with gay culture, PnP had been linked to unsafe sex practices, leading to increased rates of HIV infection and sexually transmitted infections.

The first iteration of the program will be for men 30 and older, with a second run in the spring for men 29 and younger. Busch explains that the age groups have different patterns of use, given that younger men tend to believe “HIV is over and ask ‘is it still relevant?’”—an effect of not having lived through the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS routed the queer community. Now, “there’s not the same fear,” Busch concedes.

Participants of Spunk will be led through six 90-minute sessions with a focus on peer support and motivational interviewing, in a process that will encourage self-directed behavioural change and work through the ambiguity participants may feel about those changes. “We’re not here to tell anyone how to live their lives,” says Busch. Instead, self-awareness and an internal desire for change is key—nobody is setting out to push people into a program they aren’t themselves seeking out. The support group is for those who “don’t feel great about their [drug] use” and are “on the fence about their activities.”

The support group complements other services that ACT provides, such as encouraging safer sex by giving away free packets of condoms and lube. “Getting people to use condoms can be tricky,” says Busch. The attitudinal shift towards HIV/AIDS in part stems from the arrival of medication to help manage the disease and a new wave of pornography that moves away from condom use. People are being influenced by porn culture, he notes, and the “condomless sex [in these films] is changing perceptions.” While Busch adds that this move in perception is “not all bad,” it’s obvious that condomless (also known as bareback) sex requires a certain level of responsibility.

Throughout the interview, Busch, who has worked for four years in community outreach, is careful to frame the obstacles in a way that keeps things free of shame. Given that risky sexual behaviour has been linked by some to low self-esteem, capturing the correct tone is vital for Spunk to be effective: “We’re not judging, and that’s what allows [participants] to come here and allows disclosures.”

Photo by nayrb2.

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