Gay male sex is fantastic! If it is done with one person, partner, boyfriend, new friend, or several old friends, there is nothing better than the sexual energy and intimacy that men share. No matter what you have heard or learned from society, there is nothing bad, wrong, or dirty about our sex lives.

But, just as natural as gay male sex is, so is contracting a sexually transmitted illness. Suppose you are willing and able to take on the responsibility of being sexually active. In that case, you also must be willing and able to take on the responsibilities associated with those actions, including being knowledgeable about STDs.

Unlike us, too many organizations associated with our community take a sex-negative approach to education, which leads many guys to have feelings of fear and anxiety about sex and, thus, getting tested for STDs. We have six facts that should help the majority of you make better decisions about testing and which sexual activities you engage in.

Fact #1

Safe sex is a myth

Gay sex before the HIV virus was very different than what most of us born after 1980 could understand. Condoms were rarely used, if ever, and most major cities like New York and San Francisco had community healthcare centers that acted as free clinics to treat STDs and minor health concerns. Then came AIDS.

This new virus came with fear, confusion, and an almost knee-jerk reaction from inside and outside of the gay community to stop as many guys from becoming infected by decreasing the amount of sex we had and our number of partners. Condoms were the primary weapon against the virus but also strict behavioral changes. This included abstinence, masturbation, and instilling within our community fear of not only HIV but also other gay males that we were or could be sexual with. Trust was the most significant casualty after the excessive number of lives lost.

As stated by Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Having sex with only one partner who only has sex with you when neither of you has a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is believed to be safe. However, many healthcare professionals believe there is no such thing as safe sex, and they believe the only way to be truly safe is not to have sex because all forms of sexual contact carry some risk.”

Just like in every other area of life, sex comes with risks. The amount of risk depends on your actions and your degree of acceptance of those risks. Some guys are big risk-takers, and others are not. Some guys use condoms and PrEP every time they have sex, and some do not.

Throughout your life, you will have to make many choices about your sexual activities. These choices will change as you change. No one can predict which options are best for you every moment in your life, not even you. Our choices should change as our level of information and education changes. This is called being an adult.

Safe sex is a myth because nothing you do in life will ever be totally free of risk and thus “safe.” You can make educated decisions about the amount of risk you are willing and able to accept, as well as make sure you stay updated on the latest information about STD prevention and treatment.

Fact #2

Bacterial infections are different from viral infections

Not all sexually transmitted diseases are created equally. Knowing the difference between bacterial and viral infections can not only assist you in reducing your risk of infection but also, hopefully, decrease your fear of getting tested every three months and, if positive, getting treated.


Bacteria are tiny micro-organisms that are made up of a single cell. They’re very diverse and can have many shapes and structural features. Bacteria can live in almost every conceivable environment, including in or on the human body. Only a handful of bacteria cause infections in humans, which are called pathogenic bacteria.

Sexually transmitted diseases that are caused by bacteria are:

  • Chlamydia
  • Syphilis
  • Gonorrhea
  • Mycoplasma
  • Gardnerella
  • Trichomoniasis


A virus is a tiny infectious organism that can infect all types of life forms – once they successfully find a living host, they stay alive by replicating and copying its DNA within the cell.

Sexually transmitted diseases that are caused by viral infections are:

  • HIV
  • Herpes (HSV)
  • Hepatitis A/B & C
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Real-world practical differences

Of course, the most commonly known STD in our community is HIV, and it is a perfect example of the differences between viral and bacterial infections. HIV and other viral STD infections are not curable, but they have fantastic treatment options that can allow those living with the virus to live long and healthy lives.

Bacterial infections are much easier to contract than most guys know or understand. Because they can live on the skin for differing periods, they can be transferred through basic actions of touch; the exchange of bodily fluids is not necessary. But fortunately, they are not only treatable but CURABLE. Hepatitis A & B, as well as The Human Papillomavirus (HPV), also have vaccines.

Fact #3

Fetish sex is not riskier than “vanilla” sex.

Depending on your age, access to the internet, or some form of pornography, your knowledge and experience with different forms of fetish sex may vary. But the most common misconception is that fetish sex is inherently much more dangerous and risky than vanilla sex.

The real-world application of this thought process begins with the fact that straight people consider each of our natural sexual urges and actions somewhere high on the fetish sex scale. Even as anal sex increases among straight couples who admitted sexual practices, it is a main, and sometimes primary, source of sexual gratification for many gay males. This means we start as members of the fetish community, if we think so or not.

For this article, we will reduce our thoughts about fetish sex to some of the most common ones practiced by gay males. Thus, we will exclude ones such as blood sports, and temporary piercings, in favor of those associated more with sexual intercourse.

Activities such as water sports and felching have their roots in other more commonly thought of practices such as oral sex (dick sucking) and analingus (rimming). This means that the risk factor is roughly the same. Remember, nothing is EXACTLY THE SAME as anything else.

Knowing and understanding the mechanics of particular fetishes as well as the possible STDs associated with those activities will not only reduce your stress level when having your fun but make sure that your play is done as safely as possible. So, don’t avoid fetish sex because you believe it is riskier than it really is.

Fact #4

Your number of sexual partners is not as significant as you have been told.

This real-world fact is going to involve a tiny bit of math as well as logic. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, limiting ones sexual partners was part of the standard safe sex advice given to gay males. The thought process was that because there was no test, treatment, or cure, we could not know who was living with the virus. Thus limiting our sexual intercourse was just smart.

But, this thought process is not just outdated but homophobic, as the spread of STDs throughout our community is erroneously attributed to the number of our sexual partners rather than the type of sex we have, the protections taken as well as the STD status of the ones we are having sex with.

So, let’s examine this concept in a real-world scenario with modern eyes. If Matt has sex with one man, his partner, his sex life is considered to be very safe by average standards. And if Paul has sex with numerous men, many of them strangers, his sex life is considered to be very risky.

But what if monogamous Matt has a cheating partner? What if “popular” Paul is HIV positive, undetectable, and only has sex with other HIV-positive guys and/or those on PrEP? What if Paul is HIV-negative but only has sex with undetectable Poz guys and is on PrEP?

The real world is much more complex than what you are taught in a sex education pamphlet. The type of sex and the number of men you have it with will vary over time, and you need to make well-informed decisions based on facts and not fear.

Fact #5

Half of men will not exhibit any symptoms of an STD

Most guys only get tested for an STD if they believe they are showing any symptoms. Also, many guys think their partners must be negative for any and all STDs if they do not show any symptoms. The reality, as pointed out by Planned Parenthood, is that:

“While some people experience symptoms of an infection, like discharge, burning, or itching in the genital area, others can have a sexually transmitted infection and have no symptoms at all.”

“For example, 50 percent of men with chlamydia have no symptoms. And, on average, people with HIV don’t develop symptoms for ten years.”

The UK NHS broke down the most common STDs and how long it usually takes for symptoms to be evident, if at all.


Symptoms usually appear after 1 to 3 weeks but can start much later. Symptoms include:

About 50% of men who are infected do not have any symptoms.

Genital herpes

Symptoms can appear after 4 to 7 days but might not start until months or years later. Symptoms include:

  • small, painful blisters around the genitals
  • pain when peeing
  • tingling or itching around the genitals

Most people do not have any symptoms when first infected.

Genital warts

If genital warts appear, symptoms could start from 3 weeks to many months or even years after contact with the virus that causes them. Symptoms include:

  • small, fleshy growths or bumps on the genitals or around the anus – these are usually painless but may be itchy

Most people with the virus that causes genital warts do not develop apparent warts.


Symptoms usually appear within two weeks of infection but could start much later. They include:

  • green or yellow discharge from the penis
  • pain when peeing

About 10% of men who are infected do not have any symptoms.


Symptoms usually appear after 2 to 3 weeks but could start earlier or much later. They include:

  • one or more small painless sores or ulcers on the genitals
  • a blotchy rash and flu-like symptoms that may follow a few weeks later

Symptoms are often not obvious and may come and go.


Symptoms usually appear within four weeks but could start months later. They include:

  • discharge from the penis
  • pain when peeing

About 50% of men who are infected do not have any symptoms.


The first symptoms may appear after 2 to 6 weeks. They can include:

  • flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature (fever), sore throat, headaches, and achy muscles or joints
  • a red rash on the body

Not everyone gets these symptoms, but in people who do, they usually last 1 to 2 weeks.

After the symptoms disappear, you may not have any further symptoms for many years, even though the infection remains in your body.

Fact #6

Condoms and avoiding anal sex won’t protect you from every STD.

There are numerous reasons why guys choose to use condoms during anal sex or not. These are personal choices that are unique to the ones making them. Some avoid anal sex with the same energy level as those who enjoy anal sex. Again, these are personal decisions. But, the real-world fact is that condoms are not a perfect barrier to every STD, and avoiding anal sex to protect yourself from STDs also won’t work.

Gay sex is about much more than anal sex. We are loving and affectionate people who enjoy kissing as much as rimming. And mutual masturbation as much as penetration. Focusing your STD prevention plan around only anal sex due to fear limits your sexual options and enjoyment and is futile.

Bacterial infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea are most often transferred by close contact touch instead of the exchange of bodily fluids through anal sex. Anal and penile warts, which are symptoms of HPV, are also contracted this way.

The real-world fact is that anal sex is not necessary to be gay, but avoiding it will not protect you from all risks. If you don’t enjoy anal sex and choose other options, such as being a SIDE or enjoying solo masturbation only, that is a horse of a different color.


We don’t have cookie-cutter sex lives that fit neatly into a nice box, and we shouldn’t have to. As we age and grow and have more varied life experiences, we will be exposed to different situations that will require skills and education appropriate to the timing.

Almost all gay male health and sexual education is designed by straight people who have no idea about our real lives. They need to conduct mounds of research to obtain basic information that we learned before our first sexual experiences. These people also come from a heteronormative position that can lead to unintended or possibly intended homophobic outcomes. Remember, it was only very recently that our natural sexual acts were considered a mental health issue, deviant, and even illegal in most of the west, and it still is in most of the rest of the world.

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