Updated: Sep 13
Stigma about sexual health too often stands in the way of open communication, whether it be with a potential or current partner(s) or when sharing concerns with a medical professional. While discussions can lead to more awareness about our bodies, learning to speak openly has not been facilitated for many people, making it difficult to broach the topic with ease. Having access to resources that are supportive, compassionate and inclusive is integral to the LGBTQIA+ community’s understanding of sexual health. In turn, when we are equipped with accurate information, we can make connections and support others in our community with confidence and kindness. Whether it be exploring sexual experiences or caring for our bodies, sexual health is vital to our overall well-being.
Last month we discussed HIV Prevention and Treatment along with its history and medical advancements. The queer community was perhaps first to see a large-scale smear campaign regarding a sexually transmitted entity and we are still fighting misinformation and hateful attitudes surrounding not just HIV and AIDS, but any and every STD (sexually transmitted disease) and STI (sexually transmitted infection). Outspoken advocates and activists have rallied for sexual health education on the front-lines, encouraging hospitals and school systems to speak-up about the varied bacterias, viruses and parasites that can harm our bodies, some even fatal if left untreated.
According to the CDC, it is estimated that 1 out of 5 people have an STI, noting that more walk-in clinics and telehealth services can ensure proper treatment and less transmission, especially for those in rural areas. In a 2021 STD surveillance report, multiple states in the Southeast showed the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea infections. Many STIs have similar symptoms and require testing to accurately identify and treat. However, some STIs may never cause symptoms, making routine screenings crucial for safer sexual health. Bacterial STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea and parasitic STIs like trichomoniasis can be cured in a single-dose medication, but may need to be monitored for follow-up treatment.
Fear can create avoidance around checking the status of one’s sexual health, especially for queer people. Additionally, LGBTQ individuals are less likely than non-LGBTQ people to schedule breast, cervical and colon cancer screenings, often due to discomfort around disclosing identity, discrimination and access barriers. Screenings are often the only way to ensure early detection of STIs, followed by informed treatment, ceasing further damage to the body. For example, HPV is the most common STI in the United States, spread by anal, vaginal or oral sex, but left untreated, HPV is responsible for 9 out of 10 cervical cancer cases and can cause vulvar, anal and penile cancer. Myths surrounding who is and who isn’t at risk can additionally mislead queer people from proper sexual health screenings. One popular misconception that pervades the queer community is that individuals with cervixes cannot transmit STIs to each other. The truth is anyone can give an STI to anyone else, even when using condoms, gloves and dental dams, though these safer sex measures can prevent transmission greatly.
Disclosing about an STI can feel like a heavy-shamed confessional. Support for better communication can foster an environment of consideration and awareness between partners. While focusing primarily on herpes, Something Positive for Positive People is an example of how we can navigate conversations around STIs and STDs. Founder Courtney Brame emphasizes that self-image issues and depression often follow a diagnosis, but with community, treatment and education, there is hope. The link between supportive sexual health care and mental health can be life-changing.
Inclusive sex education in schools is sorely lacking, while the states that have abstinence-only programs or no required sex ed hold higher rates of teen pregnancies, HIV and STIs. Unsurprisingly, many of these same states tend to also have strong anti-LGBTQ laws or are in the process of attempting to roll-back rights and visibility for queer people. These issues are interconnecting, indicating an attempt to suppress a healthy culture of open communication, accurate education and acceptance.
“Full LGBTQ+ liberation and self-determination will only come when our communities have access to opportunity. That means having the ability to make informed decisions about our own bodies and our own health, with the support and guidance of culturally competent health care providers. We must work to enact policies which enshrine these rights and liberties for all LGBTQ+ community members, and especially for our youth populations.”
Equal Health offers Sexual Health consultations, including comprehensive sexual health infection (STI/STD) testing, oral prescription medications, and treatment navigation support for infections that require injectable treatment options. Equal Health additionally offers post-exposure prophylaxis or Doxy-PEP which is medication that can be given after a potential exposure to prevent syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Equal Health considers first line treatments and follows the best medical practice guidelines for patients. Additionally, Equal Health offers HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Mental Health Management, Gender Affirming Care and Weight Management services.
“Barriers and Facilitators to Cancer Screening Among LGBTQ Individuals With Cancer”, National Library of Medicine
“Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Programs: Harmful and Ineffective”, Guttmacher Institute