Party and play
Party and play, party 'n' play (PNP or PnP), or chemsex is the consumption of drugs to facilitate sexual activity. Sociologically, both terms refer to a subculture of recreational drug users who engage in high-risk sexual activities under the influence of drugs within groups.
Some studies have found that participating in those sex parties have a higher probability of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases by having unprotected anal sex with large numbers of sexual partners. For this reason, "chemsex" has been described as "a public health priority".
Methamphetamine is often used recreationally for its effects as a potent aphrodisiac, euphoriant, and stimulant. It has been further described that "an entire subculture known as party and play is based around methamphetamine use." Gay men belonging to this subculture will typically meet up through internet dating sites to have sex. On such sites, men often include notations such as "chems" or "PNP". Since stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine drastically delay the need for sleep, increase sexual arousal, and tend to inhibit ejaculation, PNP sexual encounters can continue for many hours. Methamphetamine taken in excess of amounts prescribed or recommended will prolong symptoms of intoxication for up to eight hours. In some cases, these sexual encounters will sometimes occur continuously for several days along with repeated methamphetamine use. The crash following the use of methamphetamine in this manner is very often severe, with marked hypersomnia.
These drugs tend to inhibit penile erection, a phenomenon known by the slang term crystal penis or pilly willy. Consequently, many men who engage in PNP use erectile dysfunction drugs such as sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafil.
For some PNP participants, substance use may facilitate a process of "cognitive disengagement" from the fears and stipulations associated with sex in the time of HIV/AIDS. Popular discourses of "disinhibition" provide a commonly accepted alibi for activities engaged in when under the influence of substances.
The same drug-induced loss of inhibitions makes PNP enthusiasts more vulnerable to more immediate threats, such as robbery, date rape, or assault by someone whom they meet for sex. The term party and play - and pay has emerged as a warning that partying and playing leads to bareback sex which increases the chances of contracting HIV and may result in other consequences such as neurological damage and resistance to HIV drugs.
Methamphetamine can cause sores and abrasions in the mouth which can turn typically low-HIV-risk sex acts such as oral sex into very-high-risk sexual activity.
Men who PNP with methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA, and ketamine are twice as likely to have unprotected sex (meaning sex without using a condom), according to British research from 2006. The study also found that up to 20% of gay men from central London gyms had tried methamphetamine, the drug most associated with PNPing.
History and cultural significance
Subcultures of psychoactive drug use have long existed within urban gay communities, since the disco era and before. These substances have been used for dancing, socializing, communal celebration and other purposes. The rise of online websites and hookup apps in the 1990s gave men new ways of cruising and meeting sexual partners, including the ability to arrange private sexual gatherings in their homes.
From the early 2000s, historic venues of gay socialization such as bars, clubs, and dance events reduced in number in response to a range of factors, including gentrification, zoning laws, licensing restrictions, policing and the increasing popularity of digital technologies for sexual and social purposes.
In this context, PNP emerged as an alternative form of sexualized partying that enabled participants to avoid the increasingly regulated nature of public space. Newly popular drugs such as methamphetamine and GHB/GBL replaced dance drugs such as ecstasy within this context and are typically valued for their sexual effects, reducing inhibitions and increasing sexual confidence.
While PNP sessions tend to be organized around sex, there is some evidence that they can serve a range of social purposes for their participants, including the opportunity to meet other gay men, become friends, and engage in erotic play and experimentation. In some instances, PNP sessions play a part in the formation of loose social networks that are valued and relied upon by participants. For other men, increasing reliance on hookup apps and websites to arrange sex may result in a sense of isolation that may exacerbate the risk of drug dependence, especially in the context of a lack of other venues for gay socializing and sexual community-formation.
It has been observed that reliable data and relevant research are generally lacking and this situation is generating a climate of moral panic. In an article published by The Guardian, it has been argued that an exaggerated reporting might give the public a distorted impression of the magnitude of this phenomenon – and that can only increase the level of collective anxiety. An obsessive attention of clinicians, researchers and journalists to gay sexuality could also result in an inaccurate and phobic representation of gay men as self-destructive and sick.
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