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Elizabeth Boskey, Ph.D.

Men & STDs

By March 11, 2013

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The vast majority of STD testing and treatment information is focused on women. This is partly because women tend to suffer the most severe long-term outcomes of STDs, such as infertility, more frequently than men, and partially because women are easier targets. Since prescription birth control is an option for women, but not for men, women are more likely to access sexual health care. In addition, women are more likely to receive regular preventative care visits involving their reproductive organs than are men.

I've always found this to be a bit short-sighted, since although lesbians can get STDs from each other, most women get their STDs from sex with men. Although men can, and do, visit STD clinics, STD testing is even less a part of their routine care than it is for women. That's a problem generally but, as a study recently published in the American Journal of Men's Health reports, it's even more of a problem for Latino men.

Latino populations have disproportionately high rates of STDs and unintended pregnancies, and part of that is because of strong cultural inhibitions about discussing sex, which lead to relatively low knowledge about risk factors and prevention. However, this study found that -- at least for the men interviewed for this study -- the lack of knowledge was also compounded by serious concerns about confidentiality in the doctor's office, not knowing where to go for testing, and a lack of qualified Spanish speaking providers. There were also cultural concerns about whether seeking sexual health care was consistent with the requirements of machismo and whether it might be better to be infected with an STD and not know about it than have to deal with the reality of a diagnosis.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the best way to address most of these issues is to work on changing cultural norms about discussing sex. Not only would that increase knowledge of prevention and care, reducing the social stigma associated with STDs would also make the possibility of a diagnosis less frightening. That might make Latino men more likely to access care, although stigma is not just an issue in Latino communities. Everyone could benefit from a widespread change in the ways that most Americans discuss sex.

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