Health Issues for Gay Men: Tips to Stay Healthy

Quit Smoking To Improve Your Health

Health issues for gay men may range from STDs and substance abuse to depression and body image problems. Understand these important health risks and know how to protect yourself.

Gay men and men who have sex with men are at increased risk of a number of health issues, including sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), depression and poor body image. Find out about these important health issues for gay men and take steps to promote a healthy lifestyle.

Protect yourself from HIV/AIDS and STDs

Men who have sex with men are at increased risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as other STDs, including gonorrhea and syphilis. To protect yourself:

  • Get tested and have your partner tested. Don’t engage in unprotected sex unless you’re certain your partner isn’t infected with HIV or other STDs. Testing is important because many people don’t know they’re infected, and others may not be honest about their health.
  • Use a condom. Use a new latex or polyurethane condom every time you have sex. Use only water-based lubricants, not petroleum jelly, cold cream or oils. Oil-based lubricants can weaken latex condoms and cause them to break. During oral sex use a condom, dental dam — a small piece of latex — or plastic wrap. Keep sex toys safe by protecting them with a condom or cleaning them before and after every use.
  • Be monogamous. Stay with one sex partner who has tested negative for HIV and other STDs and who won’t have sex with anyone but you.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink and don’t use drugs. If you’re under the influence, you’re more likely to take sexual risks. If you choose to use injectable drugs, don’t share needles.
  • Know the risks associated with sexual venues. Sexual venues such as bathhouses, sex parties and the Internet can facilitate multiple sexual partnerships and anonymous sexual encounters, as well as higher risk sexual behaviors.
  • Get vaccinated. Vaccinations can protect you from the serious liver infections hepatitis A and hepatitis B, both of which can spread through unprotected sex.
  • Remain vigilant. Potent anti-retroviral medications have reduced the number of AIDS deaths, but AIDS is still an illness for which there is no vaccine and no cure. Likewise, there isn’t a cure for many other STDs, such as human papillomavirus or genital herpes. The best way to stay healthy is to protect yourself.

Seek help for substance abuse

Drug and alcohol abuse is common among gay men. Sometimes substance abuse is a way to cope with shame and overcome fear, denial, anxiety or even revulsion about gay sex. In other cases it offers a buffer against rejection. Gay men who are victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, violence or hate crimes also are at risk of drug and alcohol abuse.

If you have a substance abuse problem, remember that help is available. Local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health, mental health or community centers often provide substance abuse treatment. Organizations such as the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Addiction Professionals also may provide referrals.

Stop smoking

Gay and bisexual men are more likely to smoke than are heterosexual men. Potential reasons include increased stress and depression due to social alienation.

Smokers face many health risks, including cancer. If you smoke, take the first step and decide to quit. Then take advantage of the many resources available to help you successfully quit smoking.

Tackle depression

Depression is a common issue for gay men and men who have sex with men. Contributing factors may include lack of a domestic partner, anti-gay violence and community alienation. In some cases depression is related to a history of attempted suicide, child abuse or recent sexual dysfunction. The problem may be more severe for men who remain in the closet or those who don’t have adequate social support.

Left untreated, depression may lead to risky sexual behavior and a downward spiral of emotional, behavioral, health, and even legal and financial problems. If you think you may be depressed, talk to your doctor or seek help from a mental health provider. If you’re reluctant to seek treatment, confide in a trusted friend or loved one. Sharing your feelings may be the first step toward getting treatment.

Recognize domestic violence

Domestic violence can affect gay couples, too. You may be experiencing domestic violence if you’re in a same-sex relationship with a man who:

  • Threatens to tell friends, family, colleagues or community members your sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Tells you that authorities won’t help a homosexual, bisexual or transgendered person
  • Tells you that leaving the relationship means you’re admitting that homosexual relationships are deviant
  • Tells you that abuse is a normal part of homosexual relationships or that domestic violence can’t occur in homosexual relationships
  • Justifies abuse by telling you that you’re not “really” homosexual, bisexual or transgender
  • Says that men are naturally violent
  • Portrays the violence as mutual and consensual
  • Rationalizes the abuse as part of a sadomasochistic activity

Domestic violence may leave you depressed and anxious. You may be more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs or engage in unprotected sex. Domestic violence can even trigger suicide attempts. If you’re a victim of domestic violence, tell someone about the abuse, whether it’s a friend, relative, health care provider or other close contact. Consider calling a domestic violence hot line for advice and creating a plan to leave your abuser.

Address body image problems

Gay men are more likely to experience body image problems and eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa, than are their straight counterparts. One explanation is that gay men aim to sexually attract men, which subjects them to the same kind of body image pressure as heterosexual women. Gay men also may engage in more social comparison than do heterosexual men, possibly causing gay men to feel more dissatisfied with their appearance.

If you’re struggling with body image problems or an eating disorder, get help. Talk to your doctor or a trusted friend or loved one. Together you may find possible treatment options.

Seek regular health care

Don’t let fear of homophobia or the stigma associated with homosexuality prevent you from identifying yourself as gay or bisexual to your doctor or seeking routine health care. Instead, take charge of your health. Check with your doctor about routine screenings recommended for men in your age group. If you’re not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship, schedule regular screenings for HIV and other STDs. Share any other health concerns you may have with your doctor as well. Remember, early diagnosis and treatment is often the key to long-term health.

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