Gay and bisexual men

A number of health conditions are especially problematic for men who have sex with men. Despite the elevated risk for certain diseases, many gay and bisexual men are reluctant to reveal their sexual orientation to their health care providers, which makes it more difficult to address the specific needs of these communities.

“I don’t know who’s more uncomfortable talking about the fact I’m gay, my doctor or me!”
--Sully, age 21

But it is important for men who have sex with men to speak openly with the healthcre providers. Sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STD/STIs) occur in sexually active gay men at a high rate. Additionally, about half of HIV cases occur among gay men. That men who have sex with men are at an increased risk of HIV infection is well known, but the effectiveness of safe sex in reducing the rate of HIV infection is one of the gay community’s great success stories. While effective HIV treatments may be on the horizon, there is no substitute for preventing infection. Safer sex practices can absolutely reduce the risk of STD/STIs and HIV, which is key to long-term health. Vaccination against hepatitis A and B is also an effective prevention tool.

It is also important to find a provider who is trained and sensitive your needs. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association offers a directory of healthcare professionals that are LGBT welcoming.

Taking Care of Your Health

There are certain health risks that gay and bisexual men should be aware of:

Cancer

The American Cancer Society says gay men are at increased risk for many of the most common cancers. This includes lung disease (as gay men are more likely to be smokers) along with skin, prostate, lung, and colon cancers. Anal cancer, a relatively rare disease linked to high-risk types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), is much more common among gay men than the general population. The risk increases greatly in those who are HIV-positive.

Depression

Issues of depression in LGBT people is far more prevalent than one might think. In fact The risk of suicide symptoms is greater among gay men than their straight counterparts. If you or someone you know is depressed, seek help. A specialist can ask the right questions and can help. The truly strong person is the one strong enough to ask for help when they need it. What should you look for in a therapist? Make sure they practice gay affirmative psychotherapy. That means the therapist does not view being gay as a problem, but rather as a healthy variation – equal to – heterosexuality. You’ll need to ask. And if you want a gay or lesbian psychotherapist, don't be afraid to ask the therapist about his or her sexual orientation. You can tell a great deal by how he or she answers the question.

Smoking

Gay men are more likely to smoke, compared to heterosexual men. Stress, many health care experts believe, is one of the main reasons why the smoking rate among gays and lesbians is at least twice the average. If you smoke, try to quit, or look in your community for support in quitting. Smoking can lead to heart disease and multiple cancers, including cancers of the lung, throat, stomach, and colon. The LGBT Tobacco Control Network has resources and information that may help.

Substance abuse

Gay men use drugs and alcohol at a higher rate than the general population. Look for services in your community targeted to gay men. Check with your healthcare provider if you’re having trouble finding help.

Body Image

According to the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, problems with body image are more common among gay men than their straight counterparts, and gay men are much more likely to experience an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa. While regular exercise is very good for cardiovascular health and in other areas, too much of a good thing can be harmful. The use of substances such as anabolic steroids and certain supplements can adversely affect health. At the opposite end of the spectrum, overweight and obesity are problems that also affect a large subset of the gay community. This can cause a number of health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Ten Things to Know

ASHA's one-page fact sheet includes ten essential things to know about men's health, with a special focus on sexual health. Read online to access links to more information, or print out a copy for yourself or someone else.