What Is Party and Play Among Gay Men?

The Risks of Drug-Fueled Sex Marathons

Gay bar and dance club in Boston, MA
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When people use the term "party and play" (or PnP for short), they usually mean drugs ("party") and sex ("play"). Party and play is most commonly used as an expression in the gay scene. The drug typically referred to is crystal meth, although party and play applies to any type of drug used during sex between people of all sexual orientations.

Party and play may involve group sex, but it can also be used to refer to one-on-one sexual encounters involving drugs.

Why Do Some Gay Men Party and Play?

There has been a lot of speculation, anecdotal evidence and research looking at the phenomenon of party-and-play activities on the gay scene. In these reports, emphasis is placed on the acceptability of anonymous sex, free from the constraints of conventional relationships, among gay men.

One of the main reasons suggested is that young gay men are often unable to meet potential partners in mainstream settings, so they tend to use gay bars, clubs, gay dating sites and chat rooms to meet sexual partners. Drug use has often been quite prevalent in these settings, and so drugs and casual sex often go hand-in-hand.

Some of the other reasons given for why gay men party and play is to make gay sex easier from a physical point of view (for example, to enable a greater level of relaxation, which is helpful during anal sex), and to increase sexual arousal and stamina -- the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra is often used for this purpose.

It has also been documented that drugs can increase the courage required for barebacking.

Using drugs to enable uncomfortable sex and to cope with underlying feelings of shame and depression have long been associated with sex work for men and women. Sex workers and gay men looking for party-and-play sex partners are at increased risk of HIV infection.

The increase in HIV rates among gay men since the meth epidemic of the past decade has been well documented.

However, prevention strategies have targeted gay men more extensively than sex workers, who tend to be stigmatized by society, despite the fact that many sex workers are victims of sexual abuse. To them, sex work is a means of survival rather than a positive choice.

Rite of Passage into the Gay Community?

While some gay men assert that party-and-play involvement is a kind of initiation into the gay scene, in fact, many gay men choose not to use drugs -- or to have anonymous or unprotected sex. Anal sex is also an activity that is by no means universal among gay men, whether facilitated by drug use or not.

It is unfortunate that vulnerable young men, uncertain of their sense of belonging in the gay community, buy into these myths and take drugs in order to perform and feel part of the gay scene. It also feeds a false negative stereotype of gay men as superficial, irresponsible and uninterested in committed relationships.

If you are pressured by another man to engage in drug-fueled sex, particularly group sex, you might consider that, rather than being typical of gay men, this may be an issue for that particular individual and might represent other issues, such as sex addiction.

Sources

Bonell, C., Weatherburn, P., Rhodes, T., Hickson, F., Keogh, P. & Elford J. "Addressing gay men's use of methamphetamine and other substances." Addiction Research and Theory 16(5): 417-420. 2008.

Halkitis, P., Mukherjee, P., & Palamar, J. "Longitudinal modeling of methamphetamine use and sexual risk behaviors in gay and bisexual men." AIDS Behav 13:783-791. 2009.

Johnson, D. Meth: The Home-Cooked Menace Center City: Hazelden. 2005.

Semple, S., Zians, J., Strathdee, S. & Patterson, T. "Sexual marathons and methamphetamine use among HIV-positive men who have sex with men." Arch Sex Behav 38:583–590. 2009.

Shelton, M. Gay Men and Substance Use: A Basic Guide for Addicts and Those Who Care For Them. Center City: Hazelden. 2011.

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