Since 2014, the Flux Study has been collecting and analysing data from 4000 gay and bisexual men about their drug use. Flux (‘Following Lives Undergoing Change’) is being conducted on a national scale by the Kirby Institute and it is one of the first studies in the world to report on the incidence of drug initiation among gay and bisexual men. Flux explores the contexts and consequences of, and motivations for, drug use over time.
We chatted with Mohamed A. Hammoud Senior Research Manager & PhD Candidate, The Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney about some Flux Study findings, to date.
Based on evidence from Flux, how many gay and bisexual men use drugs and how much of that use is problematic?
Based on the evidence from the Flux Study, and from other studies across Australia and internationally, I’m confident to say that the pop-media sensationalised myths that all gay men use drugs, and those that do have problematic use, are absolutely false! This has been shown time and time again. Among the 4000 men who participated in Flux, the majority have never used party drugs. Among those that have ever used a party drug, the majority haven’t done so recently, and for those that did, most of them only used drugs once or twice in the previous 6 months.
Among gay and bisexual men who do use drugs, what reasons did they give for doing so?
The most cited reason for using drugs was to enhance a sexual experience. Often, for a party-n-play/chemsex session.
In Flux, we also asked men to tell us about any positive and negative consequences they experienced while using drugs. They tended to report more positive than negative experiences, which isn’t too surprising given that most use is infrequent. That being said, there is a small percentage of men who show evidence of problematic use. Those with problematic use were more likely to experience negative consequences, including overdoses and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Gay and bisexual men’s drug use is closely connected to their peer networks and strengthening the capacities of those networks to address problematic use is crucial work for the future.
The study asks about consumption of both licit and illicit drugs, are you able to tell us what the study discovered in relation to smoking and drinking?
As we’ve seen with other studies on gay and bisexual men, drinking alcohol and smoking especially occur at higher rates compared to the general population. The 2016 National Drug Household Survey found that 14.9% of people in the general population aged over 14 were current smokers, by comparison one third of gay and bisexual men who participated in Flux study were current smokers.
Higher rates of smoking is also observed among lesbian and bisexual women (check out the SWASH study to find out more).
Flux has been collecting data since 2014, has the study detected any changes or shifts in substance use among gay and bisexual men over this time?
There has been very little change of the types of drugs used, and how often they have been used since 2014. But that’s not to say that the same men are using the same drugs over that time. Some men start using certain drugs, and others stop. So, the overall percentages stay much the same, but individual’s decisions about using drugs can change considerably.
What’s next for Flux?
Our friends over in New Zealand are launching Flux NZ at the end of the year. For the first time, Flux is going to be able to track drug-using behaviours and compare the similarities and differences between countries. But keep your eyes and ears open, Flux might be making some appearances in other places and key populations!
Click here to download a copy of the Flux Report.