Gender research and community prevention
The use of illegal drugs among young people is currently cause for public concern in Britain. Since the late 1980s, empirical evidence points to the fact that the extent and variety of drug use has increased (Balding, 1994; ISDD, 1994; Parker et al., 1995). Recent evidence also suggests that young women are involved as much as, and in the case of some drugs, more than, young men (Measham et al., 1993). Placed alongside other ‘youth’ statistics in the public mind, such as ‘joyriding’, this phenomenon has been perceived as a social threat, debatably supplanting HIV/AIDS in magnitude.
While young people’s sexuality and, more generally, injecting use of drugs have received research and policy attention, the relationship between non-injecting drug use and sexual behaviour among young people has received far less (Ford, 1990). Much drug taking among young people takes places in leisure settings. It is perceived as normal and an integral part of a popular youth culture. It is therefore very different from the problem of injecting which has formed the major focus of research.
Studies of young people’s sexuality have demonstrated the important role played by gender in the social acquisition of male and female sexuality and in the negotiation of sexual encounters (Holland et al., 1992, 1993; Wight, 1993). These accounts have highlighted the constraints upon female sexual options and choices but have rarely been grounded in the specific sexual cultures that frame them. While the role of gender in the use of drugs has received some recent attention, this has rarely been in the context of youth culture.
The role of research in HIV prevention has been varied. Community-based HIV prevention initiatives which employ ethnographic research methods, often in combination with outreach techniques and an emphasis on including the ‘researched’ in the research process, have been a particularly notable example of the practical application of research (see Chapters 9 and 12). However, like much research on illicit drug use and risk taking in the post-AIDS era, the focus of such initiatives has been largely on ‘hard to reach’ populations whose behaviours are perceived to put them most at risk of HIV. Young recreational drug users are often ‘easy to reach’ in the sense that they