Human behaviour is intentional and purposeful. For example, we do things to relax, to unwind, to put ourselves in the best possible light in front of other people. Even if we are not always conscious of why we do things, there is usually a reason for our behaviour.
When we don’t understand another person’s actions, we can see that behaviour as unintentional or not having a purpose. An example of this is drug use. When we don’t understand a person’s drug use we tend to ascribe negative reasons to it, to see it as not having a purpose and therefore, being problematic. The person needs to get help and find ways to reduce their habit.
When we use drugs, and someone tells us we have a problem, we deny it. Why? Because we don’t see our drug use as a problem. We are convinced our use is intentional, it helps us to relax, to unwind or to socialise with friends. In other words, our drug use is intentional.
The same applies to Pnp (Party and play) where drugs are used in the context of sexual activity. The following thoughts come with the strong proviso that they will not apply to everyone who Pnps. I also want to acknowledge that while I use the term Pnp in the context of male to male sex, Pnp is also used within heterosexual communities.
If we accept the premise that our behaviour is intentional and purposeful, then Pnp is intentional behaviour. It serves the purpose of heightening our pleasure by lengthening the time we can remain in an aroused state.
Pleasure is a powerful motivator. In using drugs in our sexual activity, we are seeking to extend the state of arousal for it, as it is in this state of arousal we feel the most pleasure. However, pleasure is not just physical sensation. Pleasure is the combination of physical sensations with the sense of connectedness.
Drug use lowers inhibitions and creates a sense of instant community. One of the biggest challenges for men seeking to reduce or cut back on their drug use was the fact they lose their friends and the community of drug users they related to. Many men cannot form strong friendships quick enough with non-drug users that would counter the pull of friendships created through their drug use.
Men often build various personas to survive in the world. As gay men, we are used to the need to have various personas we can slip into. A face for the family and one for work. Drug use can be intentional in that it allows us to drop the personas, to be present in the moment, to experience the pleasure of touch and the tactile sense of skin on skin.
The danger is when we feel isolated and alone. When we feel tired of carrying the weight of our personas, we can Pnp in ways that place us at risk. The desire for pleasure counters the message of wearing condoms and we are willing to take the risk. The fear, the worry, and the tension of living with the anxiety of having contracted an infection is never weighed in the heat of the moment when we convince ourselves we are safe.
Not only are we searching for pleasure and community at a deeper level, we are often searching for ecstasy. Humankind has always searched for ecstasy, the state of transcendence and joy. The use of drugs is often the intentional short cut to ecstasy. The problem being, we rarely have a high as good as our first high. For many people, repeated drug use is an attempt to re-create the intensity, the pleasure of that first high. That first and only high of innocence.
Pnp is intentional behaviour. Those of us who do not Pnp may not understand it, but that is not to say it is unintelligible. It is purposeful behaviour, but not all purposeful behaviour has the outcome we want or expect. Many of us will Pnp on the weekends to relieve the monotony of the week, and find quick pleasure and community, and for some, risky behaviour may lead to results we do not want or anticipate.
I leave you with a question – Are there other ways to achieve the results of pleasure and community which do not involve risk and are more life sustaining?
The WA AIDS Council provides a number of services for gay men around their drug use. The M Clinic has a fortnightly drug & alcohol clinic on Tuesday afternoons. There is also the Peer Education Methamphetamine Program and Counselling services. For further information please phone 9482 0000.