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Right now we’re in the middle of the national healthcare enrollment period, so if you haven’t signed up for health insurance yet, the deadline is Dec. 15, so get on it! We believe healthcare is a fundamental human right, and LGBT people deserve quality and culturally competent care, but even with health insurance, there’s still a lot to know about taking care of your physical, mental and sexual health. That’s why we’ve assembled this Hornet Health Starter Kit to provide some knowledge and resources on protecting your health in the year ahead. (And if you want to download and share a desktop PDF version of this guide head here, or to see the kit on a mobile device or tablet head here.)
Getting health insurance
It’s important to get coverage and engage in regular preventive care. There are various options for accessing care in the United States. Here are ways to access healthcare:
— Get health insurance through your employer
— Stay on your parents’ insurance until age 26
— Enroll in the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare
— Access Medicaid if you are in a state that expanded Medicaid coverage
— Check out the services at a federally qualified health center (FQHC) such as a Planned Parenthood or a local community clinic. An FQHC will see you for free and provides coverage regardless of residence status.
Sex is a way we find joy, pleasure and intimacy. Gay sex is something to be explored and celebrated. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and we all have varied tastes when it comes to our sexuality. Unfortunately, most schools don’t teach about gay sex or only teach that gay sex is bad or wrong. Knowing the basics of gay sex, such as how to bottom or top, can relieve much of the anxiety men may have around sex and allows for more relaxation and enjoyment. There are many articles out there that offer insight into some of the fundamentals of gay sex, like this one that provides anal douching safety tips.
Treating and preventing HIV
HIV is a reality in our sex lives. Knowing the facts about HIV and how it’s transmitted allows you to be in control of your sexual health. The first step is to know your status. This testing locator will help you find testing locations in your area. Knowing your status can alleviate fear and anxiety and puts you in control of your health. The Know Your Status (KYS) feature in the Hornet app allows you to affirmatively declare your HIV status as well as enroll in a friendly six-month reminder to see a doctor for additional testing and treatment.
If you are HIV-negative, there are numerous options for preventing HIV:
— PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a daily pill that is highly effective in preventing HIV. It’s a new and exciting prevention option that many people are talking about. The Stigma Project created a great tool to determine if PrEP might be right for you. Check it out here. And if you think PrEP is for you, ask your doctor to prescribe it. This link provides PrEP locations near you.
— PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), a pill regimen that can prevent HIV after a potential exposure to HIV. If you think you’ve been possibly exposed to HIV, visit a clinic, your doctor or other healthcare provider immediately to see if PEP is an option.
— Condoms help prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Always use lube to help prevent condom breakage.
If you are HIV-positive, that is nothing to be ashamed of. If you are HIV-positive you can still have an active and healthy sex life. With daily medication you can live a long and healthy life. It’s important to go on HIV medication as soon as you discover you are HIV-positive. The medication will lower the viral load, or the amount of virus in your body, so that you are undetectable. This will allow you to maintain good health. Being undetectable also means it’s virtually impossible to transmit HIV to your partner.
If you have questions about HIV, check out Ask the Doc. It’s a great video series where gay doctors provide information on topics such as testing, PrEP, being undetectable and dating with HIV.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are inconvenient and a nuisance, but they’re nothing to be ashamed of. The fact that they’re transmitted through sex should never make one feel guilty, bad or dirty. If you’re sexually active it’s a good idea to be screened for STIs every three months. The doctor should test you on all parts of your body where you have sexual contact — mouth, penis and rectum.
Talking to your partners about STIs can sometimes be difficult, but it’s an important conversation. The more we talk openly and honestly about STIs, the more we’ll feel empowered about our sexual health and choices.
Vaccinations are a great preventative measure to ensure you stay healthy. There are some key vaccinations that every gay man should consider receiving. Most are offered by your doctor or a community health center for a low or no cost. The Vaccine Finder will help you find vaccination resources near you.
Hepatitis A & B vaccinations: Hep A is a virus that affects the liver and is usually transmitted by contaminated food or sexual activity. Hep B can lead to liver cancer and can be transmitted through bodily fluids. Both are easily prevented with vaccinations.
HPV vaccination: An HPV Vaccination Protects against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to some cancers. If you did not receive the vaccination as a child, it can still have some benefits as there are dozens of types of HPV and it’s unlikely that a sexually active adult would be exposed to all of them.
Meningitis: There have been some meningitis outbreaks around the country in the past few years. Meningitis can have serious and sometimes deadly consequences but it is easily prevented with a vaccination.
Mental health is a key component of our health, and there is no shame in mental illness or talking to a professional to work through a problem. Gay men can encounter all sorts of complicated issues in our lives — drugs and alcohol, sex, shame, body image, relationships and family. Such issues can have a strain on one’s mental health and possibly physical health. There are many resources available to help address mental health issues. Most LGBT community centers provide mental health services, as do community clinics.
Featured image by sturti via iStock