Sorry, but nothing’s perfect; there are serpents in Eden, flies in the ointment, and—maybe—microbes in your sex life. And while much attention is focused on HIV, there’s a whole range of other STDs that are lurking out there, too, ready to pounce on your penis.
Some nasty symptoms, like gonorrhea’s brutally burning discharge, are tough to overlook. But sexually transmitted diseases—from liver-destroying hepatitis B to life-threatening syphilis—may not present such impossible-to-ignore signals. Even gonorrhea itself is asymptomatic in a sizable proportion of cases, and can sneakily infect the butt and throat as well as the penis. This means that a venereal disease can impair a guy’s health—and be passed on to others—without his even being aware of it. Says one fellow, “I only found out that I’d had hep B when I got a blood test. I carried antibodies, but, fortunately, didn’t have a chronic case.”
Likewise, many folks have no idea they’re infected with HIV, though reliable testing is readily available. Says one AIDS-prevention worker, “Back in the early days of the epidemic, when there were no good treatments and discrimination was rife, you could argue that ignorance was bliss. But now, knowing you’re HIV-positive can literally save your life.”
There are, to be sure, guys who still believe it’s best not to know. Fear often plays a part in that attitude, as though denial will prevent disease. Some men may even be seeking “plausible deniability,” the ability to truthfully say to a potential partner, “I’m disease-free…as far as I know.”
On the other hand, there are the homo hypochondriacs who confuse cock with contagion. The prevention worker says, “I worked on a hotline, and we had chronic callers who were panicked about everything they did, even if it was absolutely risk-free. It was as if they were punishing themselves for being queer. But masturbating in a restroom won’t give you HIV…though you might get crabs.”
It’s vital to avoid both panic and denial. If you’re sexually active, it’s just plain sensible to get yourself checked out periodically for common STDs—even if you’re having safer sex. While rubbers can prevent HIV transmission, keep in mind that condoms don’t provide reliable prevention for other STDs that can be more easily spread, so many recommend, for example, syphilis testing every six months or so.
In the best of all possible worlds, men who have sex with men would all have affordable, gay-friendly doctors happy to peruse their poles. But even guys with limited resources or homophobic health care can usually get themselves tested for little or no cost at a public health clinic.
Clinic-based care can also take care of one of the stickier aspects of finding out you’ve got something: partner notification. “It’s not easy,” says our prevention guy, “to call or e-mail a buddy and say, ‘Hey, I might have exposed you to an STD.’ But it’s important that guys who might be infected be told. In many cases, a clinic will do that for you, if you give them the relevant info.” In many places, partner-tracing is legally mandated for certain diseases, notably HIV and syphilis, but regardless, good scouts spread the bad news. (If your courage fails you, there are notification programs in some cities that relay “you may have clap” messages anonymously. And you can always create a special e-mail account for that less-than-pleasant purpose.)
No, dealing with sex-related health issues may not be fun, but it is worthwhile. “I was really nervous when I went to the VD clinic,” says one young fellow. “I even chose a place the next town over, so no one I knew could see me walk in. But the experience was fine—the people there were knowledgeable and reassuring. And they gave me the treatment I needed.”
Says one man who sleeps around a lot, “Conscientious sluts keep themselves healthy.” But even if you’re in a monogamous relationship, you might be harboring something that you caught before you met Mr. Right. If you care for him, find out.
Knowing sooner is better than finding out the hard way later. Getting laid? Then get swabbed and blood-tested, and pee into that little cup. Nip whatever it is in the bud. Stay safe, and stay healthy. You owe it to those who love you. And you owe it to those who love to suck you off.
Simon Sheppard is the editor of Leathermen and Homosex: Sixty Years of Gay Erotica, and the author of Sex Parties 101, Kinkorama, and In Deep: Erotic Stories, and can be reached at [email protected] Visit Simon at www.simonsheppard.com.