PositiveLite.com’s editor Bob Leahy recently talked with Duncan MacLaughlin, the manager of community health programs at the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), about the evolution in promoting gay men’s health that’s moving away from focusing on our weaknesses and vulnerabilities and more towards emphasizing our resilience and strengths. This interview, which you can read here, was specifically about a new ACT initiative TheSexYouWant.ca, which goes beyond the basics to tackle more advanced questions that gay and bi guys have about sex, pleasure and risks.
ACT is now taking this one step further by starting a discussion-based support group called SPUNK! for gay and bisexual men who use drugs. Drugs and alcohol have long been blamed for higher rates of bareback/condom-less anal sex and higher rates of HIV and other STI transmission among gay and bi guys. Research studies suggest that there’s a connection between drug use and HIV/STIs but these links are more complicated than is commonly understood.
The fact is, many gay guys who are HIV-positive or HIV-negative or who don’t know their status use drugs and alcohol and have sex. Lots of guys manage their partying. For some guys, though, it can be a struggle. There’s a lot of misinformation about drugs, and there’s so much shame and stigma in both the gay community and in the broader culture that open, honest and practical conversations about drugs don’t often take place.
SPUNK! is a response to that. The word “spunk” was chosen for the group because it’s a synonym for both resilience and semen. Resilience is about finding our strength and meeting life’s challenges with this strength. Semen is something that gay men need to talk more about; it has significant meaning for us.
SPUNK! is a group where gay and bi guys who party with drugs and alcohol can meet in a safe, non-judgmental space to talk about drugs and sex - one that isn’t 12-step, or a clinical withdrawal and detox management service. Rather, it aims to be a space where men can connect with each other and engage in an open and meaningful dialogue in a confidential, sex-positive and drug user-positive way. It’s a place where guys can talk about making a positive change towards feeling good about their relationship with substance use and the sex they have.
The intent of the group is to raise awareness among its participants about the reasons they may enjoy using drugs and alcohol and about why they may struggle with substance use. It’ll offer them encouragement, alternatives, tools and inspiration for making a positive change. This isn’t necessarily about stopping the use of substances, because you can be a substance user and be healthy at the same time. It’s more about making positive changes so that you can have the sex you want while caring about your own well-being and that of the guys you play with.
The first group, starting in January 2012, will be for men 30-years-of-age and older. A group in the spring of 2012 will be for guys younger than 30. Both groups will be led by facilitators trained in running groups like this and who’ve had years of lived experience in LGBTQ communities and substance-using and party scenes.
More information is available on the ACT website, on Facebook, by email at
or by calling 416 340 8484, ext. 235.