A gay circuit party is a giant dance party where men (and sometimes women) are encouraged to go shirtless and shake their booty to pumping house music. It's a form of gay escapism that many find liberating and erotically charged, but for first-timers it can also be pretty intimidating.
Founded by fundraisers and charities, the events have spread across Europe and Latin America, where they still thrive today. The parties are often headlined by world-class DJs, and they can be attended by thousands of writhing gay men. It's not uncommon to see everything from go-go dancers in chest harnesses to bearded men in leather gear in the crowd.
While the parties are hugely popular, recent research has revealed that they are locales for disproportionate rates of some sexually transmitted infections, particularly HIV. Some theories link this to the use of drugs at the events. We conducted in-depth interviews with 17 gay men who attend these events to understand how and why they engage in unsafe sex and to investigate what factors influence their decisions.
For the article, we spoke to Mickey Weems, a professor at the University of Hawai'i Manoa who studies circuit parties (alongside his religious and anthropological interests). He talked to us about the evolution of the parties, what they say about our culture's relationship with pleasure and risk, and their future.