As everyone hopefully knows, gay men are affected by several health concerns at disproportionate rates when compared to the general population, especially in regards to sexually transmitted infections and HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) there are approximately 19 million new STD infections each year, which cost the U.S. healthcare system $16.4 billion annually and cost individuals even more in terms of acute and long-term health consequences. STDs are not to be taken lightly as undetected and untreated STDs can increase a person’s risk for HIV and cause other serious health consequences.
I have worked with public health for over 11 years, and I can tell you first hand that progress is being made, but there is a long way to go towards a level of health for men who have sex with men that is acceptable.
As a technology geek and an gay men’s health activist, there are two areas that are my primary areas of concern: Internet Outreach and Internet-Based Partner Services. There are a couple of blog posts on the topics; Would You Tell, which discusses partner services in general and Disease Intervention Specialists, which discusses the process and people that contact persons that may have been exposed to an infection, including HIV. You can find more information about the work on my website InternetInterventions.org.
One of the biggest challenges I face is educating public health in such as way as to help them understand the sexual freedom we, as men who have sex with men, enjoy and helping them understand the technologies, like Adam4Adam, that we use.
The second challenge that I find to be almost as difficult is in educating gay men on exactly what public health is trying to do online and why.
The history between public health and men who have sex with men is long and there have been painful experiences on both ends. Public health has been abused by gay men, and gay men have been abused by public health. The sad understory is that our health suffers as a result of these difficult experiences that it is difficult for us to move way from these experiences.
From the gay men’s health side of the street, I hear stories about the “sex police” and the government “invading our bedrooms” and I can understand that perspective. From the public health side I hear staff say “we are just trying to stop the spread of STDs and HIV” and “I can tell his partners for him anonymously so they can get help if they need it, I am protecting his privacy”.
I also understand the perspective that talks about “the government” having sexual health information. On the surface it sounds scary, but in practice, they have the information already by law, (many infectious diseases must be reported) so why not work with them to get your partners checked?
Back to the point of this post, part of my hope in having the health portion of this blog is to provide a way for YOU to educate public health through your comments on the posts, and to educate gay men about what it is that public health is really up to through the posts.
Also, I think it is important for both public health and gay men to acknowledge Adam4Adam and their willingness to support gay men’s health, and do so in such an respectful way, they have never sought to turn their health work into a money making venture and they not only allow the work, they support it!
As the result of many years of advocacy, I have had agreements, funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) with two significant national organizations, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), and the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD).
As part of my work with NASTAD we held a conference on “Reaching Gay Men Using the Internet” and produced a full report you are welcome to read. There are a series of videos that have been produced and are available on YouTube. This conference was a unique effort focused on the sexual health of gay men and technology.
There have been many efforts since this gathering. Most recently NCSD hosted a cultural competency webinar that attracted more than 144 individuals from across the nation. This session is the first of it’s kind and part three of a three part series on Internet-Based Partner Services and using technology for sexual health. This webinar on cultural competency can be viewed here, it is a great opportunity for you to get an insiders view of these on-going efforts to use technology to reach men who have sex with men.
As always, your comments on these materials and the topic are welcome!