mens_gay_health_warts“Look, I’m not a perfect person. I have my warts. I sometimes say things that get me in trouble. I wear suits that are cheap. But I say what I think and I believe what I say, and I’m willing to say things that are not popular but ordinary people know are right.” – Howard Dean

What if the warty frog you kissed didn’t turn into a handsome prince? In fact, what if the handsome prince that you did manage to kiss, gave YOU a wart? EEK!

I know, right! Let’s take this frightening “Fairytale” a little further: What if that prince kissed you in your “no-no-special-place” (crotch area – stay with me people!) and gave you a wart there? Proceed to placing wrist to forehead, rolling eyes into the head and crumpling into a pale heap on the floor.

Being gay is already a bit like doing squats in a tight pair of jeans – a bit of a challenge – but now chuck being more susceptible (than our hetero-brethren) to genital warts and HPV related anal cancer into the mix, and a gay man just wants to toss all his A&F vests out of his gym bag! It’s just too much! Why us? HOW MUCH MORE CAN WE TAKE? (And the Academy award goes to…)

It’s not that bad. Loosen the drawstring on your hot pants and breath deeply. Knowledge is empowering (not in the same way Creatine is, Cecil) and all you need is some information and you will feel much better. Deep breaths, drama is needy and needy is unattractive.

A virus known as the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) causes genital warts. However, many people who have been infected by this virus do not get genital warts. In fact, many infected people do not suffer from any symptoms at all. They are like human luggage (designer of course!); merely carriers for the virus. It’s kind of like playing Russian roulette with your private parts.

What makes HPV even more finicky is that you can become infected even if the person you are playing with is wearing a condom. HPV can be transmitted via skin to skin contact with the genital areas that the condom does not cover, like the area around the penis and anus and even the mouth and throat can be infected.

There is no silly or fun way to mention that there are strains of HPV that can cause cancer of the anus, penis and oropharynx. It is very difficult to test for these cancers in the early stages and just as challenging to prevent them. The most effective protection is abstinence, but we all know how difficult this may prove to be.

Even a committed, long-term relationship is no guarantee that you will remain HPV free. It is quite prolific, yet it is comforting to know that it does not result in cancer for all who are infected with HPV, only a small percentage. Gay and bisexual men are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than their straight counterparts, which makes HPV awareness and education important for us as a community.

Freezing the little buggers off (warts, not your ex Cecil) or having them surgically removed can treat genital warts. They can also – at times – spontaneously disappear after a period of time, but it is always best to get these things checked out by a health practitioner. They are also known to come back after treatment, so multiple treatments may be necessary. Warts don’t turn into cancer.

Cancers of the penis, anus and oropharynx can be treated with radiation and chemotherapy and early signs and symptoms of these diseases are:

• Penile cancer – first signs may appear as a thickening and build up of tissue and/or discoloration of the penis. Sometimes the penis may erupt in painless sores or growths that can bleed on occasion.

• Anal cancer – red flags are anal bleeding, itching or discharge and/or swollen glands around the anal or groin area. Sometimes anal cancer may not present any symptoms at all.

• Cancers of the oropharynx can present as a swollen or sore throat that does not go away and at times, constant coughing. Other symptoms include hoarseness of the voice, weight loss and a lump or build up of tissue in the throat or neck.

This does not mean to say you must go home and wrap yourself up in cling film and sterilize your jockstrap before you dare kiss that guy you’re having dinner with later, it’s about knowing what is at risk and making an informed decision.

Nothing truly worthwhile is risk free. But the best thing you can do (when preparing for battle) is to study and understand your opponent so you know what you are up against. Ask any cage fighter! (Now you have an excuse to talk to one.)

Bruce J. Little is a media consultant for Health4Men, a project of the Anova Health Institute NPC, funded by USAID through PEPFAR. Health4Men provides sexual healthcare for men who have sex with men. This article represents Bruce’s personal views.

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