Written by the UPGUYS Editorial Team
Published on August 23, 2022
One in four gay men has never been tested for an STI.
That's a concerning statistic, especially considering the severity of STIs commonly spread within the gay community. Gay men, like all men, deserve to engage in safe, healthy, and fun sex lives.
Are you a gay or bisexual man concerned about sexual health? Do you want to learn more about the risks involved in gay sex and how you can protect yourself and your partner?
In this article, we'll discuss:
Every man (and woman) needs to be aware of the risks they face during sex. The risk of STD and STI infections is higher among men who have sex with other men. Gay and bisexual men must understand the unique risks to their sexual health and well-being.
Read more: 6 Signs You Should Get An STI Test
Some people speculate that STIs spread quickly among gay men because they are more promiscuous. Research has shown that gay men don't actually have more sex partners than the average heterosexual man. The majority (52%) of gay men have fewer than ten sexual partners in their lifetime.
The increased risk for STIs is not due to promiscuity but the nature of anal sex itself. The anus is not self-lubricating, and anal tissues are surprisingly thin and delicate. During anal sex, there is a high risk for the anal tissue to tear, making it easy for viruses to enter the bloodstream.
Because of the increased risk for blood contact, STIs can transmit more easily among gay men. Although gay men more frequently engage in oral and manual sex, even occasional anal sex can make someone vulnerable to infection. Bisexual men could also contract or spread STIs from vaginal sex.
Men who are HIV-positive are at increased risk for developing AIDS. They are also more likely than other men to develop anal cancer. Both of these conditions can impact men's well-being and even shorten their lifespan.
STDs and STIs can spread through sexual contact, including oral, anal, and vaginal sex, and through genital-to-genital contact. Some diseases, like human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes simplex virus (HSV), can also spread from the skin around the genitals that aren't covered by a condom.
Other STDs and STIs are spread primarily through body fluids, such as semen and blood. Having an STD like gonorrhea or herpes can make it easier to contract an STI like HIV.
The most common STIs and STDs among gay men include:
Many STIs cause few or zero symptoms in men. This means that you or your partner could have an STI without knowing it. If you are a sexually active man, it's crucial that you receive regular STI and STD testing to prevent accidental spreads.
Wearing a condom is an effective way for all people to prevent STIs. However, condoms aren't perfect, and there is more potential for them to tear during anal sex because the anus is not self-lubricating.
It's crucial to use plenty of lubricants and start slowly when having anal intercourse. Check your condom periodically to make sure it hasn't broken or torn. If you notice a tear, replace the condom immediately and inform your partner that they may need to have an STI test.
For some STIs, like HIV, infected people can take medications to lower their viral load. The "viral load" refers to the number of live viruses in their system that could potentially infect another person through semen or blood. In the best cases, the right medication can reduce viral load until it is almost undetectable.
Having a low viral load greatly decreases the risk of infecting a partner. However, it's still wise to always use a condom, get vaccinated against common STIs, and practice safe sex.
Sex is a healthy activity for all adults, including gay men. Keeping sexually active can boost your morale, enhance your relationships, and even decrease your risk of a heart attack!
Of course, there is more than one way to have sex with a partner, and some sex acts are risker than others. Mutual masturbation and playing with sex toys is a great way to achieve a sexual experience without bodily contact.
As all men age, it's normal to experience some decrease in sexual activity and libido. Erectile dysfunction can also affect men at any age. If you want to continue having healthy, fun sex, it's important to stay on top of your sexual health!
Any time you have sex with a new partner, you should consider visiting a gay men's sexual health clinic for STI and STD testing. If you frequently have sex with new partners, you should test as often as possible. Always disclose your most recent STI status before starting a physical encounter with a new partner.
STIs and STDs can spread in multiple ways. Unless you know your partner's STI/STD status and exactly how their disease may spread, it's important to be cautious with genital contact and bodily fluids.
Besides condoms, there are other ways to protect yourself against infections. Gay men are at higher risk for contracting Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HPV. For gay men, it's especially important to vaccinate yourself against these diseases.
If you discover that you or a partner has an STI, know that you're not alone. An STI diagnosis can feel devastating, but it doesn't have to mean an end to sexual activity. Plenty of men diagnosed with STIs can continue to have fulfilling sex lives, but there are some precautions you should take with your partners.
Open conversation is of the utmost importance. You should never hide information about your sexual health from your partner, and your partner should never lie to you about theirs. Approach the conversation with kindness, empathy, and openness to new ideas.
If one partner has an STI, it may change the way you can safely have sex. You'll need to be extra cautious, always wear condoms, and avoid spreading the infection through bodily fluids. One safe way to avoid spreading an STI is to engage in mutual masturbation instead of anal sex.
Some people may learn that they already have the same STI as their partner, such as HIV. Having unprotected sex with another HIV-positive person might be okay, but there is still some risk involved. Although rare, it's possible to catch a second strain of HIV from your partner.
We are lucky to live in a day and age with plenty of resources on sexual health. Gay men, especially, have not always enjoyed the same freedoms to discuss sex as straight men. Today, it's easy to find information about gay sexual health online or at your local library.
The Gay Men's Sexual Health Alliance (GMSH) is a great website to learn more about recent research and find publications on gay men's health. Stay up to date on recent events; click here to learn about how Monkeypox is affecting the gay community.
Being a gay man is about more than having gay sex. The Center for Disease Control maintains a very helpful webpage on all aspects of health for LGBTQ+ individuals. Here you can find a wealth of information about social issues, mental health, and sexual health for gay men.
All of this sexual health information can seem a little overwhelming. Here are the key takeaways you should remember about gay men's sexual health:
There will always be unique challenges and risks involved in gay men's sexual health. It's up to you to stay informed and take control of your health so that you and your partner can live your sex lives to the fullest.