Understanding the Uptick of STDs in Gay Men
The incidence of primary and secondary syphilis and antimicrobial-resistant gonorrhea is greater among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men than it is among women, according to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Unfortunately, cases are spiking.
What's more, men who have sex with men are more susceptible to other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as chlamydia and human papillomavirus (HPV), the latter of which can cause genital or anal warts, and possibly lead to cancer.
Hispanic men and other racial minorities, as well as men from lower socioeconomic groups, are disproportionately at risk of STDs. The CDC suggests this higher risk may be related to different cultural experiences of stigma, as well as less access to screening and treatment.
Why are the numbers rising?
Another keynote from the 2018 CDC report linked the rise of STDs in men who have sex with men to increased budget cuts for state STD screening programs and clinic closures. Additionally, a general lack of sex education for nonheterosexual individuals may play a part in the overall increase.
Online dating services—which have allowed men to find compatible partners more easily than in the past—are also linked to the uptick. A 2014 study published in Sexually Transmitted Infections journal indicated men who met sexual partners on social apps were 25 percent more likely to be diagnosed with gonorrhea and 37 percent more likely to be infected with chlamydia.
What tests are recommended?
A number of STDs have no symptoms, which means you could be infected and completely unaware. It's crucial to get tested regularly to take charge of your health and ensure you won't unknowingly pass something on to a sexual partner.
The CDC recommends all sexually active gay or bisexual men should be tested regularly for infections and diseases such as:
- Hepatitis B and hepatitis C, if you were born between 1945 and 1965 or do not follow safe sex practices
- Chlamydia and gonorrhea of the rectum if you've had receptive anal sex in the past year
- Chlamydia and gonorrhea of the penis (urethra) if you have had insertive anal sex or received oral sex in the past year
- Gonorrhea of the throat if you've given oral sex in the past year
Additionally, if you have sex with multiple partners or engage in casual sex regularly, you should be screened for STDs more often, as well as tested for HIV every three to six months.
What other preventive measures are recommended?
As Benjamin Franklin once said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." While he was assuredly not talking about STDs, his wisdom is still relevant.
Since gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are at greater risk for hepatitis A and B, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated against those diseases. In previous years, it was recommended men up to age 26 should be vaccinated for HPV, but recently the CDC amended the statement and said the vaccine could be effective for men ages 27 through 45 as well.
While regular testing is important, it's also vital to talk openly about STDs with your partner before having sexual relations. The more you know, and the more you communicate, the better prepared you can be to take charge of your sexual health and well-being.