Category Archives: Health Concerns

What gay trans guys wish their doctors knew

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Vancouver study peers into the lives and troubles of trans MSM

Sam Larkham organizes sexual health clinics across Metro Vancouver with the Health Initiative for Men (HIM). He says he was once referred by his doctor to a trans health care clinic that had been closed for years.

By Niko Bell

Speaking to gay and bisexual trans men, the word “invisibility” comes up a lot. Invisibility in the bathhouse and on dating apps, invisibility among cisgender people, straight people, trans people and gay people. And, too often, invisibility in the doctor’s office.

“I have tried just going to walk-in clinics and stuff like that to ask questions or request tests,” one trans man recently told researchers in Vancouver. “And I just found the doctors were generally confused about me and my body. And I had to go into great detail. That made me not so comfortable talking to them about it because they were just kind of sitting there confused.”

“People have tried to talk me out of testing . . . saying I was low-risk behaviour,” another man told the researchers. “They didn’t understand my behaviour really. . . I’ve had practitioners as well say they don’t know what to do; they don’t know what to look for.”

Both men were speaking to researchers for a new study on the sexual health of trans men who have sex with men — a group social scientists know remarkably little about. Many of the men spoke about being on the margins of mainstream culture, gay culture and of the healthcare system.

It should be no surprise, then, that the study happened almost by accident. When PhD student Ashleigh Rich started work with the Momentum Health Study — a five-year, in-depth research project on the sexual health of men who have sex with men (MSM) conducted out of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS — she never intended to write a paper about trans MSM.

But a small group of trans men volunteered for the study, some pointing out ways the Momentum researchers could change their surveys to be more inclusive.

There were too few for quantitative research — only 14 — but Rich asked if they would sit down for an hour and talk about their experiences. Eleven agreed.

The result is a slim, 11-page paper that hints at a world of things we don’t yet know about transgender gay and bisexual men. We do know they form a large part of the trans population; nearly two thirds of trans men say they are not straight. We also know trans MSM participate in the same rich world of sexuality as other men who have sex with men — from dating apps to anonymous sex to sex work and a broad range of sexual behaviour.

We don’t know much about trans MSM risk for HIV; estimates range from much less than cisgender gay and bi men to somewhat more. We also don’t know much about how a combination of stigma, invisibility and limited healthcare options may be affecting trans men’s health.

Rich is cautious about drawing any broad conclusions from her study. Not only is it a tiny sample, but the men she spoke to are also mostly urban, white and educated. This study was less about answering questions, and more about figuring out which questions to ask.

A few themes, though, emerge clearly. One is that trans MSM often find themselves falling through the cracks when it comes to sexual health. Doctors are increasingly aware of how to talk to gay men, but don’t always see trans gay men as “real” MSM. They assume trans men are heterosexual, or fail to bring up sexual health altogether.

Some doctors give trans men information on PrEP — a preventative anti-HIV medication that can drastically reduce the risk of contracting HIV if taken every day — based on studies on cisgender men, without checking to see if different anatomy requires different doses. When trans men come in for HIV tests, they are sometimes urged to get pap smears instead.

“We come in with specific issues we want to talk about in a health care consult, and sometimes once people discover we’re trans they’ll want to do a pregnancy test or something,” says Kai Scott, a trans inclusivity consultant who collaborated on the study with Rich. “And we’re not there for that. They’re giving us things we don’t want, and not telling us the things we do need to know.”

Sam Larkham, a trans man who organizes sexual health clinics across Metro Vancouver with the Health Initiative for Men (HIM), says he was once referred by his doctor to a trans health care clinic that had been closed for years. Experiences like that make him think the best path for trans MSM is to rely on queer-focused health care providers like HIM.

“It would be ideal if it were the whole medical system, but that’s impossible,” Larkham says. “I think we have to look at what we can do, and that’s have specific places where we have nurses who are well trained to handle trans MSM. I think that’s the more doable thing. I would love to have every clinic be culturally competent, but that’s not the reality and never will be.”

Scott is more sanguine. He points to Trans Care BC, a provincial health program that has pushed for more education for doctors. Education needs to happen on both fronts, Scott says, among MSM organizations and in the health care system at large.

Lauren Goldman is a nurse educator for Trans Care BC. Since she was hired last fall, she’s been giving workshops to healthcare providers on how to treat trans patients. For now, though, the workshops are aimed at small groups of sexual health professionals, such as at the BC Centre for Disease Control or HIM. Goldman wants the program to expand to include everyone.

“We know trans patients are accessing care through a number of places all across the province,” she says. “We want everyone to have access to this information as soon as possible.”

Goldman says Trans Care is designing an online course that could bring trans cultural competency to primary care doctors everywhere as part of mandatory continuing education. Trans Care has also designed a primary care “toolkit” for doctors, and is in talks with UBC’s medical school about including trans-focused sexual health education for doctors in training.

Without specialized knowledge, Goldman says, there’s a lot doctors can miss. Testosterone can make vaginal tissue more sensitive and inflexible, for example, meaning trans men might have special difficulties with genital sex. Bacterial vaginosis is more common, and the usual antibiotics given to cis women may not solve the problem. Vaginal and rectal tissue may need different doses of PrEP to be effective.

And, most importantly, doctors need trans patients to know they will be heard.

“We need to be providing really obvious cues that show people that our services are trans inclusive,” Goldman says. “Including how we design our services, how we market our services, how we educate our clinicians, what signs we hang up, letting people know that our clinicians have a greater understanding of gender diversity.”

While Goldman is educating doctors, the trans men Rich studied were already very well educated about their own sexual health. They told Rich about careful risk assessments they make around sex, sharing information with other men, and advocating for STI screening to their reluctant doctors.

One man described slipping in HIV tests while getting regular testosterone-level screening: “Yeah, oh, I’m already getting blood drawn. I probably need to get tested, let’s just draw two more vials for HIV and syphilis.”

It’s not surprising that many trans men are so health-conscious, Scott says. “We’ve had to be champions of our own bodies for a while, and so that ethos carries through when it comes to health information.”

But it would be a mistake to overstate how safe trans MSM are, he adds. For one, the urban, white and well-educated men in Rich’s study may be more likely to have access to resources and care than less wealthy or more rural trans people. Also, the very reason trans MSM seem so safe might be because they aren’t getting the opportunities for sex they want.

“To some extent, we’re still on the sidelines,” Scott says. “I don’t think that systemic rejection should be the means of HIV prevention for trans and nonbinary people. We’re dealing with a lot of rejection, and so I don’t think we’ve really had the opportunity to be exposed to that risk.”

The theme of rejection is echoed frequently by the study subjects.

“I remember meeting this one guy at a friend’s party and we were flirting the whole time,” one participant recounted. “He was like, ‘Oh we should totally go for a beer’ and so we connected and then I told him I was trans and he was like, ‘Oh I’m not looking for anything.’”

“Cis men often shut down immediately, out of a sort of fear of the unknown, and being unaware of what can and can’t happen,” Scott says. “They can assume all trans guys are bottoms, which isn’t true.”

Constant rejection can wear trans men down, Larkham says. Not only does it damage mental health, but constant rejection can weaken trans men’s resolve to negotiate sexual safety.

Many trans men, the study notes, rely on online hookup sites, where they can be upfront about being trans, and avoid rejection by anyone who isn’t interested.

The burden of rejection is one reason trans MSM need better mental health services too, Larkham says. Too many men show up to sexual health clinics after being exposed to sexual risks. Mental health support, he thinks, could reach people earlier.

But again, Scott strikes a positive note. “It’s a source of celebration to me that despite huge barriers we’re still having the sex that we want,” he says.

In the end, the clearest message to emerge from Rich’s study is that there’s a lot more to learn. She hopes to get more answers from the next stage of the Momentum study, which will recruit a larger sample of MSM from across Canada. That study, she hopes, will be large enough to deliver the kind of precise, quantitative answers that this one couldn’t.

Scott is also eager to move forward.

“There’s so much you want to pack in and so much you want to report on,” he says. “There’s such a dire need to research these issues. People are really hurting, and I really feel that. But you’ve got to take it one step at a time.”

Complete Article HERE!

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British Columbian study reveals unique sexual healthcare needs of transgender men

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by Craig Takeuchi

While HIV studies have extensively examined issues related to gay, bisexual, and queer men, one group missing from such research has been transgender men.

Consequently, Vancouver and Victoria researchers undertook one of the first such Western Canadian studies, with the findings published on April 3 in Culture, Health, and Sexuality. This study allowed researchers to take a look at HIV risk for this population, and within the Canadian context of publicly funded universal access to healthcare and gender-related public policies that differ from the U.S.

The study states that trans men have often been absent from HIV studies due to small sample sizes, eligibility criteria, limited research design, or the misconceptions that trans men are mostly heterosexual or are not at risk for HIV. What research that has been conducted in this area has been primarily U.S.–based.

The Ontario-based Trans PULSE Study found that up to two-thirds of trans men also identify as gay, bisexual, or queer.

The researchers conducted interviews with 11 gay, bisexual, and queer transgender men in Vancouver who were enrolled in B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS’ Momentum Health Study.

What they found were several aspects unique to gay, bisexual, and queer transgender men that differ from gay, bisexual, and queer cisgender men and illustrate the need for trans-specific healthcare.

None of the participants in the study were HIV–positive and only two of them knew of trans men who are HIV–positive.

Participants reported a variety of sexual behaviours, including inconsistent condom use, receptive and insertive anal and genital sex, trans and cisgender male partners, and regular, casual, and anonymous sex partners.

The gender identity of the participants’ partners did influence their decisions about sexual risk-reduction strategies, such as less barrier usage during genital or oral sex with trans partners.

While trans men shared concerns about HIV and sexually transmitted infections with gay cisgender men, bacterial vaginosis and unplanned pregnancy were additional concerns.

Almost all of the participants used online means to meet male partners. They explained that by doing so, they were able to control the disclosure of their trans status as well as experiences of rejection or misperception. Online interactions also gave them greater control over negotiating safer sex and physical safety (such as arranging to meet a person in public first or in a sex-positive space where others are around).

When it came to healthcare, participants reported that regular testosterone therapy monitoring and transition-related care provided opportunities to include regular HIV– and STI–testing.

Some participants, however, experienced challenges in finding LGBT–competent healthcare services, with issues arising such as clinic staff using birth names or incorrect pronouns, insistence on unwanted pap testing, and a lack of understanding of the sexual practices of trans men.

The researchers note that these findings indicate the need for trans-inclusive services and trans-specific education, particularly within services for gay men.

Complete Article HERE!

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Bats and BALLS

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Today, we have a follow-up question from a fellow with a ball problem.

Last week this guy writes me to tell me he thinks he might have an abnormality in his nut sack. I wrote back to him: “I applaud you taking note of your balls in an inquisitive sort of way. Good for you! But you should also have at least a rudimentary understanding of your testicular anatomy. So that when you do your self-exam, you can have some sense about what it is you are examining.” To that purpose, I offered a medical diagram for him to look at. Despite my promptings to take his huevos to a doctor for a look see, he decided to write to me once again. D’oh!

Name: anoras
Gender:
Age: 47
Location: Northridge CA
Hey doc,
Thank you so much for your previous reply and for the diagram. Yes, I’ve seen it before but really didn’t look at it precisely — Ooops. So let’s see, the thing that goes into the testicles and that gangs up to the top of the testicle, that must be what I am referring to. Feeling my balls now I realize that it is at the top and not the bottom. Can I conclude that maybe I did feel it at that time on the top and thought it at the bottom, and/or that at that time maybe I my testicle turned around for some reason? Next, at the area where it is globulous, if pressure is placed on it, would it have a pain feeling rather than applying pressure anywhere else on the testicle? That is the question I’m asking, whether there are any areas on the testicle that you would naturally feel lumps and/or pain with any pressure. The next question would be if there are ways that the testicles can be turned around and when they do can they be readjusted. Thanks in advance for your understanding and great responses.

Sheesh, darling, take your nuts to a freakin’ doctor already, why don’t cha? Since I’m not there, while you root around in your groin, to see what you’re referring to, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. And even if I were there watching you poke and prod and I could feel what you feel, I wouldn’t hazard a guess about what’s going on with you. Ya know why? Because I am not a physician, that’s why!

You ask again about lumps. Here’s a rule of thumb for us all: If you got lumps of any sort see a doctor. You ask again about pressure and pain. Since I have no way of knowing what kind of pressure you are applying, all I can say is, if you’re applying lots of pressure, it’s probably gonna hurt. If your applying only light pressure and it hurts, I’d guess there’s a problem — see your doctor.

And no, I’ve never heard of inverted testicles — see your doctor!

Ok, audience, what have we learned in today’s lesson? If any of us has a concern about what we think might be an abnormality in our naughty parts…or any other part for that matter, don’t write me…especially more than once…go see the doctor. Get it? Got it? GOOD.

Good luck

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Men who have sex with men account for over 80% of syphilis infection rates in the US

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MSM are 106 times more likely to get syphilis than men who exclusively have sex with women

Doctors advise waiting for the skin to heal after shaving before having sex

by

A new study of syphilis transmission rates reveals men who have sex with men account for 81.7% of cases in the United States.

This study found gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men are 106 times more likely to get the sexually transmitted disease.

Researchers analyzed data collected in 2015 and compiled the first of its kind state-by-state report on syphilis rates.

The study found gay and bisexual men living in the South had the highest rates of the disease, such as North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana.

North Carolina, for example, had 748 cases per 100,000 gay and bisexual men.

Alaska had the fewest cases, with only 73 cases per 100,000 gay and bisexual men.

HIV infects healthy immune cells in the human body by inserting its DNA into the cell’s genome

Fred Wyand, spokesman for the American Sexual Health Association urged people to look at the broader picture.

Wyand said: ‘Better access to healthcare, more welcoming attitudes, better support systems are all important, of course,’ WebMD reports.

‘We need to understand there are challenges faced by many gay and bisexual men greater than what most folks endure,’ Wyand concluded.

For a full list of State-specific cases of syphilis, check out the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Why do men who have sex with men report higher numbers of syphilis?

A further breakdown highlights men who have sex with men accounts for 309 cases per 100,000.

This is in contrast to men who only have sex with women accounting for 2.9 cases per 100,000.

And women with 1.8 cases per 100,000.

Dr Robert Grant, chief medical officer of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation explains why this might be the case.

Grant told CBS News: ‘Now that we have effective therapies for HIV, people who were previously untested and tested infrequently are now getting tested.

‘Sexually transmitted infections tend to go together.

If they come in and ask for HIV testing, we test for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea as well.

‘People have everything to gain and nothing to lose by getting an HIV and syphilis test.

‘This report will help reinvigorate people’s awareness and hopefully send the message that by getting a test and following through with treatment, we can decrease or even eliminate syphilis as a problem,’ Grant said.

Complete Article HERE!

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Undoing the STIgma: Normalizing the discourse surrounding STIs

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April is STD/STI Awareness Month.

By

Let’s talk about sex. It’s fun, it’s natural.

Now, considering that April is STD/STI Awareness Month, let’s take it one step further and talk about sexually transmitted diseases and infections, or STDs/STIs.

They’re not so fun and not “natural,” per se, but they can and do happen to many people. In fact, according to the American Sexual Health Association, or ASHA, “one in two sexually active persons will contract an STD/STI by age 25” and “more than half of all people will have an STD/STI at some point in their lifetime.”

Yet for the most part, society hasn’t entirely accepted the reality of STIs. Instead, mainstream conversations about STIs rely on seeing them as punchline. This quote from “The Hangover” is a good example: “Remember what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Except for herpes. That shit’ll come back with you.”

If STIs aren’t portrayed as comical, then they’re seen as shameful.

“Some people believe that having an STI is horrible and people who have them are bad,” explained John Baldwin, UC Santa Barbara sociology professor and co-author of “Discovering Human Sexuality.”

In other words, there is a stigma associated with STIs.

“It’s not a death sentence.”

– Reyna Perez

Reyna Perez, the clinic lead for UC Berkeley’s Sexual Health Education Program, or SHEP, defined STI stigma as “shame with oneself (about) having an STI or amongst other people.”

“(They think) they’re ‘dirty’ or (use similarly) negative terms,” Perez said.

She went on to explain that campus students often think contracting an STI is the end of their sex lives and lives in general. But this is not true.

“It’s not a death sentence,” Perez said. “Most of them are curable or at least treatable.”

Despite the prevalence of STIs, people don’t know much about them. This lack of understanding reinforces the misconceptions surrounding them.

To help resolve this issue of ignorance, Baldwin first shed light on the difference between STDs and STIs.

“STD is the common language that a lot of people use and (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC) uses because it communicates with large numbers of people, but medical doctors sometimes like to use ‘STI,’ ” Baldwin explained.

According to Baldwin, the term “STI” is more inclusive because it also considers people who don’t have symptoms but are infected and could infect others.

It’s true: People can be asymptomatic and transmit STIs to their partners.

“Large numbers of Americans have HIV and no symptoms and have sex with lots of others and infect others,” Baldwin said.

Additionally, sexual intercourse isn’t the only method by which STIs can be transmitted, a fact that more people should be aware of. There are many ways in which STIs can be spread, but they often go unnoticed.

According to Perez, “(People) don’t realize how you can contract them and there’s a gap in knowledge.”

Perez said STIs can be transmitted through oral sex or, in rare instances, fingering, which many people are unaware of. She also pointed out that HIV can be spread through non-sexual bodily fluids such as blood and breastmilk.

STIs can also be transmitted by something as simple as skin contact — Elizabeth Wells, lead and co-facilitator of the Sex 101 DeCal, said genital warts and herpes can be spread this way.

Even when it comes to sexual intercourse, the way by which most people believe STIs are spread, people don’t always take preventative measures.

“It’s not like everyone is consistently using condoms or barrier methods,” Perez said.

Another notable fact is that some STIs aren’t even viewed as STIs at all. For instance, cold sores on the mouth region are a form of herpes.

“They don’t realize it until someone brings it up to them,” Perez said. “Once you attach the title of ‘STI,’ suddenly it becomes something to be ashamed of. But it shouldn’t be that way.”

When the facts are laid out like this, it becomes apparent that there’s no reason to make STIs something to feel ashamed about. Many people contract them at some point, and although there are preventative measures such as condoms and other barrier methods, there are many possible avenues through which people can get them.

“Shit happens,” Wells said. “Who are we as individuals and society and people who are sex positive to vilify people that made decisions in the heat of the moment, or it just happens (that) the condom breaks?”

Yet the stigma surrounding STIs persists, largely because of the long societal tradition of suppressing discussions surrounding sex as a whole.

Baldwin expressed his belief that the stigma stems from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Judeo-Christian culture has been a prominent force that has shaped society’s views for hundreds of years. It frowns upon sexual activity, and looking down on STIs — perceived to be spread through sexual means alone — is part and parcel of that general disapproval.

“Society doesn’t evolve very fast in terms of thinking that I think you still see that mindset permeating today,” Wells said. “(STI stigma) is rooted in this idea that we’re not going to be talking about sex.”

Delving even deeper into the issue of STI stigma shows that it is further problematic because it is linked to racism.

According to a 2015 report by the CDC, STIs are more prevalent among certain racial or ethnic minorities than they are among white people. Being part of a racial or ethnic minority group also entails a plethora of issues that make it generally more difficult to find and receive appropriate sexual health services.

“It’s largely an issue of access, and you’re seeing a lack of comprehensive sexual education in those areas,” Wells said.

To vilify someone for getting an STI when they don’t even have the resources to know how to prevent them is to vilify them for not having access to sexual health resources. It is to vilify them for structural inequalities in access to education — inequalities which they did not ask for and cannot control.

“Being part of a racial or ethnic minority group also entails a plethora of issues that make it generally more difficult to find and receive appropriate sexual health services.”

Not only is it problematic to treat STIs as a taboo subject when this attitude stems from sexually repressive and prejudiced notions, but STI stigma also is harmful because it inhibits people from seeking medical treatment.

“If someone has an STI, we shouldn’t stigmatize them,” Baldwin explained. “We should try to help them get the best medicine and treatment.”

STI stigma also causes “intense emotional distress,” according to Perez.

“It’s so difficult to start support groups at the Tang Center because there’s stigma,” Perez said.

Considering all these facts and issues, the obvious final question is, “How do we get rid of the stigma surrounding STIs?”

One key component is awareness.

Awareness that people with STIs can and do lead normal lives helps. Modern science has allowed for medication that can either cure or treat STIs.

“It’s a world changer,” Perez said.

When engaging in sexual activity during an outbreak, there is also world of possibilities.

“There are creative ways to have sex while having an outbreak,” Perez explained.

She expanded upon this statement to say that, for instance, partners could use strap-on dildos when the involved parties are having a herpes recurrence.

“I believe that we are moving away from the preceding era of ignorance and successfully moving to have more scientific knowledge of STIs and their treatment so that more people are, in fact, getting good care,” Baldwin said. “Our society is moving in the right direction.”

“The need for action if you are diagnosed with an STI is further reason to destigmatize STIs –– so people can recognize the symptoms and be unafraid to seek help.”

To promote awareness, according to Perez, the Tang Center and SHEP offer programs for people who are curious to find out more about STIs as well as for people who have already been diagnosed with an STI who desire health coaching and/or emotional and mental support.

Awareness includes being conscious of preventative measures.

“Just being aware of sexual health resources (is) also really important,” Wells said. “A lot of people don’t know about it because it’s not talked about, because sex isn’t talked about.”

Wells explained that, for instance, people can take pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, before having sex with someone who has HIV or AIDS. This will lower the chance that the partner without HIV/AIDS will also get the infection. Similarly, taking post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, after sex with someone who has HIV/AIDS will help prevent transmission of the disease.

Although STIs aren’t the end of the world, if left undiagnosed or untreated, they can become serious health risks. The need for action if you are diagnosed with an STI is further reason to destigmatize STIs –– so people can recognize the symptoms and be unafraid to seek help.

According to Wells, on the last Friday of every month, the Tang Center offers free STI tests that take approximately 20 minutes. She clarified that there is, however, a six-month period after the initial infection in which the tests might not detect its presence.

Another key factor to destigmatizing STIs is simply talking about them. To emphasize this point, Wells quoted a SHEP saying: “Communication is lubrication.”

In other words, people need to start talking about STIs so that it will become acceptable to talk about them as well as to prevent them.

“It shouldn’t be uncomfortable for people because the way I see it, it’s mutual respect within relationships,” Perez explained. “I’m respecting my partner and getting myself tested and taking preventative measures, and my partner should respect me back by also being open to talking about STIs and … getting tested and (taking) those preventative measures as well.”

The way in which the discussion around STIs is being framed is also something to consider. For instance, discerning between STDs and STIs is important. Likewise, it’s crucial not to define people by their STIs.

“We don’t even like to use the word ‘HIV-positive,’ ” Perez said. “We like to use the phrase ‘a person living with HIV’ because they’re a person first before their STI.”

Awareness and communication aimed at undoing the stigma around STIs are imperative for the sake of public health but also for the sake of true sex positivity.

Complete Article HERE!

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