Gay male sex is amazing! If it is done with one person, your partner, your boyfriend, a new friend, or a number of 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. If you are willing and able to take on the responsibility of being sexually active, 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 within our community take a sex negative approach to education, which leads many guys with 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 as well as 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 almost never 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 both inside and outside of the gay community to stop as many guys from becoming infected by decreasing the amount of sex we had, as well as our number of partners. Condoms were the major weapon against the virus but also strict behavioural changes. This included abstinence, masturbation and instiliing within our community a fear of not only HIV but also other gay males that we were or could be sexual with. Trust was the largest casualty after the unnecessary 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 really is no such thing as safe sex. 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 the actions you take but also 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 the course of 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 time of every moment in your life, not even you. The choices we make 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”. What you can do is make educated decisions about the amount of risk you are willing and able to accept, as well as make sure you stay updated about 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 3 months and, if positive, getting treated.

Bacteria

Bacteria are tiny micro-organisms that are made up of a single cell. They’re very diverse and can have a large variety of 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. These bacteria are referred to as pathogenic bacteria.

Sexually transmitted diseases that are caused by bacteria are:

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

Virus

A virus is a small infectious organism that can infect all types of life forms – once they successfully find a living host, they stay alive through 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 for our community is HIV. 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 amazing 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 of time, they can be transferred through basic actions of touch. An 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 each one of our natural sexual urges and actions is considered to be somewhere high on the fetish sex scale by straight people. Even as anal sex increases within straight couples admitted sexual practices, it is a main,and sometimes primary, source of sexual gratification for many gay males. This means, we start out as members of the fetish community, if we think so or not.

We will, for the point of this article, reduce our thoughts about fetish sex to some of the most common ones practiced by gay males, and thus exclude ones such as blood sports, and temporary piercings, in favour 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 analigus (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 important 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 sexul parterns was part of the standard safe sex advice given to gay males. The thought process was that because there was no test, no treatment and no 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 are 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 with modern eyes, in a real world scenario. 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 and 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 he is on PrEP?

The real world is much more complex than what you are taught on a sex education pamphlet. The type of sex, as well as 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 exibit any sypmtooms from an STD

Most guys only get tested for an STD if they believe they are showing any symptoms. Also, many guys believe that their partners must be negative for any and all STDs if they are not showing 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, other people 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 10 years.”

The UK NHS created a breakdown of the most common STDs as well as how long it usually takes for symptoms to evidence, if at all.

Chlamydia

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
  • a 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 obvious warts.

Gonorrhoea

Symptoms usually appear within 2 weeks of being infected 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.

Syphilis

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.

Trichomoniasis

Symptoms usually appear within 4 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.

HIV

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. There are also those who avoid anal sex with the same level of energy 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 as a method of protecting 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, not only limits your sexual options and enjoyment, but also 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 risk. 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 colour.

Conclusion

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, have more and varied life experiences, we will be exposed to different situations that will require a set of skills and education appropriate to the timing.

Almost the entirety of gay male health and sexual education is designed by straight people who have no true idea about our real lives. They need to conduct mounds of research just 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 to be a mental health issue, deviant and even illegal in most of the west. It still is in most of the rest of the world.

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