Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI's)
If you've ever thought that you were the first or only person to have had a sexually transmitted infection (STI) - think again; they have been around for thousands of years. Gonorrhoea was first mentioned in the Bible and the name of the disease was given by the second century Greek physician Galen. The origin of syphilis is less clear but by the 16th Century it was making its way across Europe. More recently , HIV has affected the lives of gay and bisexual men everywhere and has changed the way we think about sexual health. Not only do we have a better understanding of our health needs but many genito-urinary medicine (GUM) and sexual health services have responded to the need for improvement. None of us really want to dwell on STIs, but being aware on what's going on leaves you free to concentrate on having a good time. Anybody can get a STI from someone who already has one. The trouble is that STIs are usually passed on by someone who doesn't know that they have an infection and so just asking your partner won't protect you.
The majority of STIs enter the body through tiny abrasions, sores or cuts in the body, many of which can be invisible to the eye. A few STIs only itch, some are painful, some are permanent and many can be serious if left untreated. Effective prevention, protection and treatment will significantly reduce the likelihood of getting STIs or if you do get them, will reduce or eliminate the harm they can cause.
Reducing the risks of infection
Being sexually healthy is not only about dealing with sexual problems as they arise, it's also about avoiding problems in the first place. Most sexual activity carries some kind of risk of getting an STI and, while never pleasant, many gay men see them as an occupational hazard. You can significantly reduce the risk of getting or passing on STIs by:
- Vaccination against hepatitis A and B.
- Using condoms when fucking
- Routine clinic check-ups every four to six months.
- A prompt visit to a sexual health clinic if you think you have an STI.
Causes and common symptomsSexually transmitted infections are caused by:
- Bacteria which generally live and multiply in the warm and moist parts of your body like your throat, inside your penis and in your anus and rectum.
- Viruses which generally need to get into the blood stream before they can do harm.
- Parasites which live on your body in areas like your groin and armpits
While some STIs have no symptoms, most do and can include:
- Itching in or around the penis, testicles or anus.
- Burning or itching when you urinate or shit.
- Needing to urinate or shit and then not being able to go, or only going a little.
- Spots, scabs or rashes on the penis, testicles, or anus.
- Pus from the end of the penis or from the anus.
- Unusual lumps or bumps
If you have any of these symptoms, even if you have not had sex recently, you should be checked by a doctor. STIs don't clear up on their own and can be serious if left untreated. It is worth examining yourself about once a month to make sure you haven't picked anything up - apart from the man you always wanted. However, some STIs don't have symptoms. You are recommended to go for a check-up at least twice a year at a sexual health clinic, some of which have specific services for gay men.
HIV and STIs
Having HIV already and getting an STI can put extra strain on the immune system and increase your viral load (the amount of virus present in the blood). This, in turn, can make you more infectious (in terms of HIV) to others. If you get infected with another strain of HIV, this could do more harm than the one you already have and increase the likelihood of disease progression. If you get infected with a drug-resistant strain of HIV, drug treatment will be less effective.
It's therefore essential that you have regular sexual health check-ups to make sure that you haven't picked anything up, particularly STIs which show few or no symptoms. Since most men find out that they have HIV at a clinic, you may already have a doctor who manages your sexual health. If you have any concerns or problems - don't hesitate to pick up the phone or visit.