Injecting drug use is purportedly more common among gay and bisexual men (GBM) than the general Australian population. Approaches designed to support the wellbeing of people who inject drugs may not be effective for GBM who inject, due to divergent settings, substances, and/or symbolism. We sought to identify the critical elements shaping injecting among GBM as a social practice and the implications for health and psychosocial wellbeing.
We conducted 19 in-depth interviews with GBM in Australia with lifetime experience of injecting drug use, adopting the Frameworks Method for data analysis. Framed by social practice theory, transcripts were coded to delineate the constituent material, competency, and meaning elements of GBM’s injecting practices. We developed themes encompassing the dynamic interrelationship between practice elements and wellbeing aspects.
Of 19 participants interviewed (aged 24-60 years), 17 identified as gay, two as bisexual. Injecting histories ranged from 2-32 years; most injected methamphetamine (n = 18). Injecting involved the integration of sexual function with substances and injecting skills in dyadic/communal settings. Beyond traditional harm reduction aspects, ‘safe injecting’ concerned trustworthiness of fellow practitioners, preventing addiction, and maintaining a solid self-concept. Injecting occurred as a dyadic/communal practice, in which an uneven distribution of materials (substances, sexual capital) and competencies (self-injecting) influenced risk and power dynamics. Pleasurable meanings of belonging, desirability and self-actualisation – gained from communities of practice – conflicted with injecting-related stigma, social dependencies, and fear of harms to body, mind, and sense of self.
Injecting is a heterogenous practice, including among GBM. Shifting configurations of its composite elements influence GBM’s perceptions and experiences of pleasure, risk, and harms. Efforts to support their wellbeing should take a dyadic/communal approach and seek to rectify the uneven distribution of material and competency elements in these settings.