It’s only natural to get complacent when dealing with the demands of daily life. That’s why a new year is a perfect time to reset your sexual health.
Here are some steps you can take to be prepared for a hot, healthy, and safe sex life in the months to come.
1. Know your HIV status
This is the sexual health starting point for gay, bi and other men who have sex with men. Our communities remain at high risk of HIV. While we now have great options to prevent and manage HIV, it all starts with a simple test. While these can be done at most clinics, you can also choose to buy or request an HIV self-test so you can know your status in the privacy of your home. It’s generally recommended that you retest every three to six months depending on your sexual activity and risk.
2. Get onto ARVs if you’re positive
Thankfully these days, HIV is an easily-managed medical condition (although not yet curable). If your HIV test comes back positive, it’s recommended that you immediately start taking ARV medication to bring the HIV under control. The sooner you start the better as ARVs reduce the chances of HIV damaging your immune system. If you already know that you are positive, make sure you take your ARVs consistently and without interruption so that they continue to work correctly.
3. Start taking PrEP if you’re negative and sexually active
If you test negative for HIV, PrEP is one of the most effective and easiest ways to prevent HIV and stay negative. While anyone can use PrEP, it’s especially recommended for guys who have anal sex with numerous partners, don’t use condoms and lube and/or engage in chemsex – and especially if you bottom. PrEP means committing to taking a daily pill to stay more than 90% protected from HIV for as long as you need to stay protected.
4. Screen and/or test for STIs
HIV makes all the headlines but there are many other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that any sexually active person should have checked regularly. The easiest way is to request an STI screening – essentially answering several questions to assess if you have any symptoms or are at risk of STIs. Symptoms can include rashes, warts, itching, blisters, scabs, sores or discharges from or around the anus or genitals, or feeling pain when peeing. (Although often there are no symptoms at first). If it looks like you might be at high risk or have any symptoms, then getting blood tests and having a health care worker take a look are the best option. The good news is that most STIs are easily treated.
5. Always keep safety in mind
If you’re into lots of hook-ups with guys or like to get drunk, high or wired when having sex, it’s important that you try do so as safely as possible. While using substances for sex may be enjoyable and reduce inhibitions, they can also interfere in making good decisions. So don’t put yourself at risk of abuse, violence, robbery or blackmail. Take common-sense precautions to ensure you don’t become a victim. When it comes to chemsex, consider taking a “harm reduction” approach.
6. Stock up on condoms and lube
Even if you are on PrEP, remember that it does not protect you from other STIs. Only condoms and water-based lube provide protection from HIV as well as several STIs. Condoms and water-based lube are, of course, a “must” if you are not on PrEP. But even if you are using PrEP, it’s still recommended that you also use condoms and lube to stop STIs.
7. Don’t forget about PEP
PEP (not PrEP) is an emergency dose of ARVs taken after a risky sexual encounter to prevent HIV infection. So, if you’re not on PrEP and were raped, your condom broke during sex or you didn’t take precautions and you’re worried about HIV, get a course of PEP. You have 72 hours (3 days) after the sexual encounter to get it or it might not work. (If you find yourself often stressed about HIV after sex, then consider getting onto daily PrEP to stay protected.)
8. Speak up and ask for help
Don’t sit in fear, worry, or pain. You may feel embarrassed, but don’t let it stop you from asking for help if you are worried about anything relating to your sexual health. If you have pains, sores, warts, or something that doesn’t work like you think it should (e.g., can’t get it up?), find a healthcare worker or service that you feel comfortable with. Embarrassment is a risk worth taking to stay healthy.
Many of the above services are free from government clinics, or you can request them from your doctor if you have medical aid / can afford to pay. You can also reach out to one of the free and friendly services that assist gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, like Engage Men’s Health. Call or WhatsApp EMH on 082 607 1686 and they’ll be sure to help you out.
Article provided by Engage Men’s Health.