Men Seeking Men Seeking Help
September 27th marks National Men’s HIV Awareness Day, a day with particular importance. Statistics show that gay men are the most affected by HIV, according to CDC data, with a disproportionate representation compared to the rest of the community. Because of this fact, it’s essential that gay and bisexual men both understand why this is the case, as well as what methods they can use to avoid their risk for catching the virus or having it negatively impact their lives.
HIV and Gay/Bisexual Men
There are a few major factors to note in terms of why gay and bisexual men are more likely to have HIV.
Community spread: Part of this is, unfortunately, a situation that grows exponentially. Because such a relatively large percentage of gay and bisexual men have HIV, there’s a higher chance, statistically, that having sex with someone in this group puts you at risk.
Method of transmission: Anal sex, by nature, is the riskiest type of sex in terms of HIV transmission, especially when having unprotected sex. As a result, men who engage in this sexual activity are more likely to transmit the disease than other groups. Some data shows that the transmission risk compared to vaginal intercourse (unprotected) is 18 times higher.
Homophobia/stigma: Many gay and bisexual men, closeted or not, may be in situations where they feel shame about their sexuality. Because of this, they are less likely to go for testing even after engaging in behavior that may put them at risk. As a result, they may not be diagnosed until after symptoms have progressed, and they unwittingly have spread it to other people.
Healthcare discrimination: Sadly, it’s been proven that gay and bisexual men sometimes have less access to healthcare resources because of their sexual orientation. The same can be acknowledged for groups like black and Latino men, or men in poor communities. This makes it difficult to get healthcare like testing and treatment for HIV after they are already infected. As a result, not only is HIV more common in these groups, it can also be more deadly.
The Latest on Treatments
So, at this point, we’ve established the stakes of this conversation for gay and bisexual men, in particular. However, what options are out there to help those who are already dealing with HIV, or at particularly high risk?
One option that’s growing in popularity in terms of helping with prevention is PrEP. This drug combines emtricitabine, tenofovir, and other medicines to suppress infection in someone who comes into contact with HIV. While the virus would enter your body, the drug combination would keep it from replicating. If taken daily, PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV from sex by 99%, while also lowering the risk of contracting through an activity like sharing needles. However, you need to be tested not already to have HIV first, and you only see that level of effects with daily usage. Also, it is not designed to replace safe sex.
For those that already have HIV and are trying to find ways to improve their quality of life and avoid progressing to AIDS, antiretroviral therapy is the primary option on the table. This also cuts down on the capacity of the virus to replicate and create a smaller viral load. With a small viral load, people are both at a lower risk of immune problems/complications and transmitting the disease themselves.
While there are a variety of tools and treatments available to help gay and bisexual men avoid risk and live with HIV, it ultimately boils down to knowing if you are infected or not. If you don’t get tested, you won’t know that you need treatment or be able to determine how effectively your treatment is going. This means that gay and bisexual men, in particular, need to be sure to get tested regularly. Whether you are sexually active with multiple partners or with a single new partner, it’s important to know your HIV status to protect yourself and others. In addition, if you are infected, the sooner you know, the sooner you can take action.