Crystal methamphetamine and sexual sociality in an urban gay subculture: an elective affinity

Cult Health Sex. 2006 Jul-Aug;8(4):317-33. doi: 10.1080/13691050600783320.


This paper draws on 49 qualitative interviews to explore the contextual antecedents of methamphetamine use in a sample of gay and bisexual Manhattan men. The paper distinguishes itself from the public health literature on crystal methamphetamine use in this population by shifting the analytic focus from individual-level factors of drug use to the role of social context. While individual-level factors--including self esteem and social awkwardness--are related to methamphetamine use, we argue that these factors arise in and are exacerbated by interactional pressures attendant to Manhattan's gay sexual subculture, which revolve around the expectation of peak sexual performance. Because methamphetamine is associated with increased self-esteem, increased libido, greater sexual endurance, diminished sexual inhibition, and a higher threshold for pain, the drug is used strategically by gay and bisexual men to negotiate sexual sociality and increase sexual pleasure. Hence, we suggest that there exists an elective affinity between Manhattan's gay sexual subculture and the particular pharmacological effects of methamphetamine-whereby the former strongly favours the latter as a systematic pattern of response. In turn, this relationship is linked to unsafe sexual practices or the social conditions that put gay men 'at risk of risk' of HIV infection.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bisexuality / psychology*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / administration & dosage*
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • Homosexuality, Male / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methamphetamine / administration & dosage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Narration
  • New York City
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sexual Behavior / drug effects
  • Sexual Partners
  • Social Environment*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Unsafe Sex
  • Urban Population


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Methamphetamine