What does the gay scene mean to you and your mates? What comes into your head when you picture Soho, Canal Street or your own local gay scene? Well, however you answered the question there’s a good chance that you were thinking about your favourite bars and clubs. Drinking is a big part of gay culture and even in the age of apps and hook-up sites many gay and bisexual men meet up on the gay scene. Alcohol is such an endemic part of the gay scene that it sometimes appears harmless and unremarkable (I mean almost everyone has one in their hand, after all), but going out and having a few too many drinks on a Friday or Saturday night can leave you with more than just a nasty hangover the next morning. Thousands of gay and bisexual men are also waking up the morning after the night before with the realisation that they have put themselves at risk of picking up HIV or other STIs (Just pop along to your local GU clinic on a Saturday lunchtime and you’ll see how busy it is!). Alcohol and sex go hand in hand. Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of having unprotected sex because it can lower your inhibitions, make you forget to use protection and can increase the chance of having riskier risk sex, partly due to the fact that it can affect your ability to make reasoned judgements.
For this reason alcohol use is an important element of HIV prevention approaches in the UK and elsewhere, such as on our mentoring, counselling and health trainer programmes (see here for more info) which consider alcohol use as one of a wider group of factors that can result in unprotected sex and risky sexual practices. Alcohol use is also a prevention issue beacause it is higher amongst gay/bisexual men than the general population and higher among HIV positive men than HIV negative men (stigmatisation is a big factor for this), and can also have an impact on treatment adherence for those taking anti-retrovirals (see research here), which means that it is also closely linked to HIV treatment and care. Luckily there is free support for gay and bisexual men in London who are worried about the risks they are taking (sexually and otherwise) while on alcohol. In addition to our own services, Antidote is the only LGBT specific drug and alcohol charity in London and they provide counselling, drops-ins and referrals to detox and prescribing clinics, amongst other services
What do you think drinking on the gay scene? Do you think something needs to be done to reduce the amount gay/bi men are drinking or do you think gay/bi men are aware of the risks and drink sensibly already? Do you think the message is getting through already and we are drinking less than we were, or maybe even that drugs are replacing alcohol on London’s gay scene and that we need to switch our focus to that instead? Whatever you think we’d like to hear from you so leave your comments below.
A controversial alcohol and safe sex campaign by CORD, Namibia
Why should we bring up the subject of alcohol and unprotected sex today on Halloween? Well it is because sexual activity varies by season. Increased sexual activity and unprotected sex occurs around holidays such as Christmas and summer breaks (and presumably even Halloween too) (see here) , and one of the reasons for this is because we are more likely to drink to excess at these times. So, if you’re heading to the gay scene (or anywhere else) this Halloween no matter what you’ve had to drink and how you’re dressing up make sure you wear a condom!
The views above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the GMI Partnership. If you are gay, bisexual or trans and living, working or socialising in London and looking for support to have safer sex please contact us on 02071600941 or email firstname.lastname@example.org