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Study: Circuit Parties Contribute to Rise in HIV Rates
2005-10-19

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Circuit parties—created in the 1980s in large part to raise awareness and funding related to HIV and AIDS prevention—may be part of the problem instead of the solution, a new Northwestern University study finds, according to a press release from the university.

The study, 'Reducing HIV Infections at Circuit Parties: From Description to Explanation and Principles of Intervention Design,' concludes that unprotected sex at circuit parties—particularly by HIV-positive men—is increasing the risk of HIV/AIDS and causing a public health threat.

According to co-investigators Amin Ghaziani and Thomas Cook, a professor of sociology at the university, the circuit parties are causing a tension between building cultural identity and undermining the very basis of that community. They advocate intervention strategies to change the risky behavior, which they show is influenced by recent changes in attitudes and drug use of party participants.

The study revealed that more than two-thirds of attendees have some type of sex at the parties—and that 47 percent of them reported participation in unprotected sex. The study also claims that HIV-positive men are overrepresented at the parties and more likely to have unprotected sex.

The study offers looks at circuit parties as well as a synthesis of studies that describe such parties; the sexual practices and drug use of gay men; and possibilities for intervention. Increasingly risky behavior is linked to newer party drugs, such as crystal meth; increased complacency about HIV; and a sense of loosening of behavioral constraints that occurs in large groups.

Ghaziani and Cook offer a model to influence safe sex at circuit parties. The main focus is on recruitment of socially influential friends and peers—or opinion leaders—who would deliver key messages to reduce HIV infections. The prevention messages argue that unsafe sex falsely promises eroticism and authenticity; certain drugs elevate libidos and distort cognition; more HIV+ men are present at the parties compared to other settings; and condom use does not betray intimacy or the party ethos.

The release of the study follows the announcement by Chicago's Hearts Foundation that it is no longer sponsoring Fireball, an annual circuit party. Critics labelled the event as an orgy of sex and drugs. However, several people also contended it was too easy for those critics to point their fingers at the party when drugs are so prevalent throughout the community.


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