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Gay and Bisexual Men's Health

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

a gay couple

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) have been increasing among gay and bisexual men. Recent increases in syphilis cases have been documented across the country. In 2008, men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 63% of primary and secondary syphilis cases in the United States. MSM often are diagnosed with other bacterial STDs, including chlamydia and gonorrhea infections.

Gay and bisexual men can be infected with HPV (Human Papillomavirus), the most common STD in the United States. Some types of HPV cause genital and anal warts and some can lead to the development of anal and oral cancer. Men who have sex with men are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than heterosexual men. Men who are HIV-positive are even more likely than those who are uninfected to develop anal cancer. See Primary and Secondary Syphilis—Reported Cases, 2008, by Sexual Orientation.

How are STDs spread?

  • Gonorrhea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted by genital secretions, such as urethral secretions from the penis
  • Genital herpes and syphilis are transmitted primarily through skin-to-skin contact with sores/ulcers or infected skin that looks normal
  • HPV is transmitted through contact with infected genital skin or mucosal surfaces/secretions, such as the penis and anus

What are the signs and symptoms of STDs?

Some STDs do not cause any symptoms, while others can cause various symptoms, including:

  • A discharge from your penis.
  • Pain, burning, or itching around the opening of your penis when you urinate.
  • Anal itching, soreness, and bleeding, or discharge.
  • A single sore or multiple sores on the penis.
  • Rash on the palms of the hands or bottom of feet.
  • Painful blisters around the genitals or anus.
  • Warts on the genital area, including the penis and scrotum.

When should I be tested?

All gay, bisexual, and other MSM should be tested each year for STDs (including HIV). Always see a doctor if you have any signs and symptoms of an STD. It is important to get tested so you can get the needed medications to cure the infection or alleviate its symptoms. Be sure to tell your recent sex partners, so they can get tested too. Talk openly and honestly with your partner about STDs. It is also essential that you avoid having sex until you and your partner have both finished your treatment, so you don’t re-infect each other.

How can I prevent STDs?

The most reliable ways to avoid transmission of STDs are to abstain from sexual activity, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. Consistent and correct use of male latex condoms reduces the risk of STD transmission. However, condom use cannot provide absolute protection against any STD. There is also a vaccine available to prevent HPV in females and males.

Can STDs Be Treated?

Antibiotics can successfully cure bacterial STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. However, drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are increasing in many areas of the world, including the United States, and successful treatment of gonorrhea is becoming more difficult.

There is no treatment that can cure viral STDs, such as HPV and genital herpes. Antiviral medications can shorten and prevent herpes outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication. In addition, daily suppressive therapy for symptomatic herpes can reduce transmission to partners. Visible warts caused by HPV can be treated and removed.

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  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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    Atlanta, GA 30333
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