There is, unfortunately, a large amount of stigma around sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), even in the gay community. We often react with shame or blame and create even more separation from the actual issue.
If your friend gets an STD, you’re pretty likely to lecture them about being safer, but you’re just as likely to go to a stranger’s house for some raw dogging. How can we be so hypocritical?
When a big disease coms around, looking at you COVID-19, we get lots of media coverage, endless detail, and health officials come forward to ensure we all take it seriously. We’ll even vaccinate our children from certain deadly diseases without batting an eyelash. So, how do we shift the tone of the conversation?
Unfortunately, because STDs are intertwined with sex, they’re already quite taboo. Throw some gay-related trauma in there and you’ve got a recipe for perpetual shame and self-blaming. Too often we take an ass-backward approach to our sexual health, only approaching concern once we’ve got uncomfortable symptoms. If you’re one of the ones who operate like nothing’s wrong until it’s too far gone, then you’ve got room for improvement.
Most of the options out there for protecting yourself against these STDs are cheap and super easy to use. I’m going to teach the children STD basics that every gay man should know.
What is an STD test?
It’s a test a physician will perform to determine if you have been infected with an STD, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, HIV, herpes, and so many more. Not every test is the same and they’ll even take your age group into account when looking into any STDs you may have. One of the more common tests is through urine sample like in the movies, you’ll have to remember that it’s nothing to be concerned about faking because you want accurate results. They also perform blood analysis so they may need a sample. My least favorite is the swab, but more on that later.
Why is getting tested so important?
For starters, it gives you insight into your sexual history. Which you’ll have to recall by the way and lying about it to the doctor is just uncomfortable.
If you’re sexually active, own it, and take it seriously. If you’re engaging in unprotected sex this is even more important and those who like to rack up a body count should be just as concerned. Even starting a new relationship could spark a reason to get tested, maybe you’ve got a new symptom like foul discharge, a burning sensation when you pee, even bumps and sores around your genitals. An STD test will help you rule out infections you may have been exposed to or further health issues.
Even if you don’t show signs of any infection it is worth it to go get tested as regularly as you can. Some people, like myself, aren’t really prone to showing symptoms, so we have to be really diligent and get tested on a regular basis. The last thing you want to do is unknowingly pass on a preventable disease to someone else or multiple someones.
Knowing your status is critical to not passing on potentially life-altering diseases. Not treating an STD or even similar symptoms can lead to infertility and even cancer!
How often should I get tested?
I can’t really give you a straight-forward answer here because there’s no single answer for all of the gays out there.
You should consider getting tested with every new partner, either before you start sleeping together or after you already have. Even the CDC guidelines are wishy-washy on the topic of frequency because it ultimately depends on how many risks you're willing to take and your sexual lifestyle. I have friends who get tested every two weeks and others who go once a year. My rule of thumb was every three months or more often if I felt I was having sex with more partners than I normally would.
Why do some dudes avoid testing?
Well, the only answer I can honestly think of is ignorance, but I’ll try to be more helpful.
Maybe they aren’t frequent fuckers or raging horn dogs, or maybe they’re just scared to know their status. They might not have gotten as thorough of sex education as they could have for whatever reason. They also might not go to the clinic because they aren’t showing any symptoms. It could even be a phobia around clinics and hospitals. The biggest reason is likely the stigma that surrounds STDs and the shame they may feel if they contracted one.
I’m here to tell you that half of us already had at least one STD by age 25. There’s nothing truly to be worried about, most of the diseases are curable or manageable with lifestyle changes. So, you may want to shift your way of thinking.
STD tests explained
Unfortunately, we don’t have one test that checks for every STD. Many countries will even cover the costs, those with universal healthcare like Canada, the UK, and Australia, welcome the notion of free testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
Int he USA, however, you’ll likely need private insurance if you want your STD test paid for. Your insurance provider may dictate where you get the test done, however.
With that out of the way, here’s how the test for common diseases:
- Chlamydia: This is typically an a-symptomatic bacterial infection, meaning doesn’t usually show signs of infection, but when it does show signs, they are certainly unpleasant, to say the least. You may experience burning sensation when you pee, pain in your balls, swelling of your ball sack, even a secretion from your penis. The good news is this is totally treatable with antibiotics. Usually, a simple urine sample is all it takes, maybe a throat swap, or, much worse, a swab of your urethra. You’ll likely hear results in under two weeks.
- Gonorrhea: Like above, gonorrhea is usually symptom-free, but you could experience burning sensations or sensitive, sometimes broken, skin on your genitalia. There may even be a milky-white discharge of puss. Yes, it looks a little like a wet dream release, but that is so not the case, unfortunately. It’s simply treated with antibiotics as well. Though, there are some strains that have been dubbed ‘super gonorrhea’ because they have become resistant to the drugs. This is just a urine sample test, generally, that you’ll hear back from in less than two weeks.
- HIV: Human immunodeficiency virus is generally considered the most concerning disease that you can get through sex. It can even morph into AIDS, which took 770 000 lives globally in 2018. While knowing your status is really important, there have been massive leaps in medicine to prevent the potentially fatal shift. You will need to give a blood sample for this test, some clinics have the ability to tell you your results in a matter of minutes, others may take days or weeks for results.
- Herpes: This disease will produce sores around your mouth and genitals that are very contagious. You may even have a fever or a larger rash around your genitals. Herpes can have serious effects on your body if you leave it untreated, so it’s important to get tested. You’ll have to give a blood test, but they’ll also swab any areas displaying the herpes sores. Again, in under two weeks, you should have your results You might get started on antiviral drugs to help shorten outbursts, but there is currently no cure.
- Syphilis: As bacterial infections go; this one comes with very serious outcomes if left untreated. It starts with painless sores on or around your genitals, they eventually recede, but then you’ll start experiencing an infectious skin rash. You can even experience cold-like symptoms and hair loss! Syphilis will then find other areas of your body to infect and there are several cases where it affects your brain. The good news is it’s pretty easy to cure usually with a single shot of penicillin. If symptoms are present, they’ll take a fluid sample from a sore, if not, they can also work with a blood sample. You’ll hear your results in less than a week.
- HPV: Human papillomavirus, is super common, it’s so prevalent that almost all humans, gay, straight, or otherwise, will likely get it at some point in their lives. It can go away on its own, but it can lead to certain cancers. It’s especially scary with that thought in mind, because you may not show any signs of disease but be carrying around someone else’s life sentence, potentially. There’s no test currently for guys who don’t show the typical symptoms of warts.
How do you find out your STI status?
By getting tested at a nearby testing location. Try and find a free sexual health clinic or ones that accept insurance, which you can pre-run by the way. Planned Parenthood is basically the go-to place in many parts of the USA. You can also try your family doctor or primary care doctor. There are even at-home STD testing kits, which can be delivered to your front door, but they’ll probably not as good as the professionals. Home kits are not really that bad of an idea if you aren’t showing symptoms, but if you do have symptoms you should be talking to your physician.
When should you get an STD test?
There are a lot of answers to this, so I’m just going to keep it short, sweet, and realistic.
- You want to have unprotected sex with your partner. This is a great time to get tested, if you know you’re clean before getting down and dirty, then you’ll be able to more accurately know when you’ve contracted something. Plus, you know you won’t be passing along anything either. Keep in mind some diseases have a delay to the onset of symptoms, this can take up to 6 weeks.
- When you or your man notice changes. Maybe this looks like sores or pain when you’re peeing, and it can be a discharge like mentioned above. Flu-like symptoms and even swollen lymph nodes could indicate herpes or HIV. If this happens you should stop having sex and get tested before having intercourse again.
- If one of you has cheated. If you’ve had unprotected sex with someone outside of your otherwise monogamous relationship you should absolutely get tested. Oral sex can even pass on gonorrhea, chlamydia, and some forms of herpes. Even if you were safe with the other person, you should still get tested.
So, what about PrEP or PEP?
Pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, is taking in order to prevent contracting HIV. When taken consistently and daily it’s shown to have a 99% efficacy rating. It is a highly effective drug that goes by a few names, like Truvada, and can be extremely useful in preventing the transmission of this disease. There are very few side effects, with the main one being nausea that dissipates with consistent use. You’ll have to be in consistent communication with your doctor and you’ll be tested during the use to ensure your HIV status remains negative.
Now, post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP is taken when you have been exposed to HIV, even if it’s only a potential risk. You’ll be prescribed this medication which is to be taken once or twice a day (as instructed) in order to prevent getting HIV. It has to be started quickly in order to be effective, within 72 hours of exposure. You’ll be taking this medication for as long as 28 days.
The key to a healthy sexual lifestyle is knowledge. You should know your status on any of the above diseases because you never know how they could affect someone else. Sure, there are drugs out there that help prevent you from getting the scary ones like HIV, but you’re not invincible. People contract these diseases every day and some of them will lose their lives to these infections. Do your part and get tested.
Know your status.