Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Sexually Transmitted Diseases can be difficult to detect.
You could have one, and not even know.
It is important to treat STDs because they can have long-term
For example, if left untreated, some STDs can cause chronic pain, arthritis, blindness, nervous system problems, dementia, and heart disease. They can even be life threatening. These complications can be avoided through prevention, testing, and treatment.
You can get an STD through almost any kind of sexual contact. STDs are often spread through fluids such as semen, blood, or mucus. But some can be passed just by contact with an infected area of the body. Condoms are effective at preventing STDs when they provide a barrier between skin or fluids, but since they can’t cover everything, they aren’t perfect.
Sometimes there are symptoms, such as blisters, sores, or pus, and sometimes there are none. That’s why it’s important to ask your doctor to test for STDs regularly. Make it a routine part of your annual check-ups and more often if you aren’t using condoms.
By the way, when you read more about these infections on this site, you might be asking why we are including information about vaginas on a site dedicated to gay men. We recognize that some gay men have vaginas and/or have sex with people who do.
Syphilis is caused by bacteria and its symptoms vary based on the stage of disease.
In its earliest stage, people who are infected with syphilis will get a lesion or sore, also known as a chancre. These symptoms usually appear a few weeks to a few months after someone gets infected. The chancre, which appears in the place on the body that came in contact with syphilis, can easily go unnoticed, especially if it is inside the mouth, anus, or vagina.
Because the chancre is painless, it can also go unnoticed even if it is on the outside of the anus, penis, scrotum, or lips of the vagina. Without treatment, it may last for several weeks and then go away. After it goes away, some people will get a rash, often on the palms of their hands, the soles of their feet, or somewhere else on their body. They may have other symptoms that resemble other infections. Those symptoms will eventually go away also, but without treatment, syphilis stays active in the body and can cause very serious health problems including blindness and dementia.
Although someone who has not been treated can have syphilis for many years and develop very serious complications from it even decades after becoming infected, syphilis is most contagious during the early stages. In other words, it’s usually the physical contact with someone with symptoms that spreads the bacteria from one person to another. Any sexual skin-on-skin contact, especially where a syphilis chancre is present, can result in transmission. You can imagine then that it is a very easy infection to get or pass, especially since the chancre often cannot be seen or felt by either person. Even if someone is using a condom, the chancre may still be in contact with the mouth, scrotum, or lips of the vagina. Condoms are still a very good protection against syphilis but they only protect the areas they directly cover. For this reason, it is important to be regularly tested for syphilis even if condoms are used consistently.
Testing for syphilis is easy.
Blood is drawn and the sample is then analyzed at a laboratory. If someone has syphilis, no matter where it entered the body or what stage of syphilis they have, it can be detected in the blood. Remember, get tested if you have had sexual skin-on-skin contact involving the penis, scrotum, anus, mouth, or vagina.
If you test positive for syphilis, an injection of antibiotics will cure syphilis but will not reverse any complications of long-term infection. It will also not prevent you from getting syphilis again in the future.
Also, if someone you had sex with recently was diagnosed with active syphilis, you will likely be treated regardless of the test results, most likely on the day blood was drawn for the test.
Chlamydia & Gonorrhea
Although chlamydia and gonorrhea are two different infections, they are passed in the same way and usually testing for both is done at the same time with the same samples.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are both bacterial infections that live in the place of the body where someone came in contact with chlamydia or gonorrhea. This can be in the throat, anus, penis, or vagina. The bacteria can also be in semen and vaginal fluids.
Sometimes these infections can result in discharge or pain from the penis, anus, or vagina. Usually these infections have no symptoms but they can lead to serious complications if left untreated. An important thing to remember is that you do not need to have symptoms in order to pass chlamydia or gonorrhea. It is also important to know that these infections can be transmitted with skin-to-skin contact (without ejaculation and without penetration).
Because chlamydia and gonorrhea live in certain places of the body, samples for testing have to be taken from those parts. There is no reliable blood test that can find these infections wherever they are. So, if you use your throat for sex, a sample needs to be taken from there. If you also use your penis and/or anus for sex, samples also need to be taken from those areas. That’s why it’s important that you talk with your doctor about the parts of your body that may have come in contact with these infections. Samples are collected using swabs for the anus, throat, and vagina. Although there is a swab for the penis, usually a urine sample is collected instead.
If you test positive for chlamydia or gonorrhea, you will be treated with antibiotics which will cure the infection but will not prevent you from getting it again. Because of this, it is important for partners to also be tested and treated as necessary.
The great number of gay men who have regularly practiced safer sex over the years — either by using condoms or PrEP, or having unprotected sex when someone’s HIV viral load is undetectable — has helped lower rates of HIV. Still, the rates of HIV infection among gay men are too high. And since treatments have been successful in fighting HIV, more gay men are currently living with the virus than ever before.
Unfortunately, we can’t pinpoint all the reasons why so many gay men are still getting HIV. Biologically speaking, it is clear that anal sex is a very efficient means of spreading the virus. Also, the odds of getting HIV during any given hook-up are greater if the pool of people you have sex with have higher rates of HIV infection.
If you have a high-risk sexual encounter, you may experience mono-like symptoms a few weeks afterwards. It could mean that you have gotten HIV. If you get a fever with an unexplained rash, fatigue, or other unexplained symptoms, and you have recently had a risk, talk to your doctor about acute HIV infection and early treatment. The current recommendation is for people to start on HIV medications as soon as they are diagnosed. It is also important to know that during this period, it is much, much easier to pass the infection to someone else.
Thankfully, there are now several highly effective ways to prevent HIV infection.
These include condoms and:
These are also ways to help reduce the chances of getting HIV:
- Get tested regularly for HIV/STDs and talk with partners about their HIV/STD status.
- Have lower-risk sex (oral, mutual masturbation, etc.) instead of, or more often than, anal or vaginal sex.
- Limit your number of sex partners.