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Combatting STIs and Hep C amongst the male gay community

By Robert E Smith - posted Monday, 23 September 2013

I've tried damn hard to be a beacon of wisdom for younger gay and bisexual men as they traipse the tightrope of social and sexual independence, there's so much they need to know to protect themselves, yet so little they actually do know about blood bugs like HIV and Syphillis.

Frisky fresh-faced men across the country are jumping head-on into a world far removed from the one they've known best - in the domain of the men who have sex with men (MSM) sexually transmissable infections are commonplace, whilst sexual promiscuity is as en-vogue as Lana Del Rey.

I'm not generalising nor am I saying every male citizen of the GLBTI populace are into partner-cycling and unsafe sex, that would be an absurdity, yet every day unprepared young men are rolling the proverbial dice risking their livelihoods without thinking of the consequences.


We desperately need a groundbreaking educational overhaul in our public system to school gay and bisexual men on their ABC's of correct and consistent condom use, to shed light on Hepatitis B / Hepatitis Delta co-infections, and to unveil the five-fold increased risk of HIV transmission via unprotected receptive sex versus insertive sex.

Hepatitis C is a 'sleeper' slow-acting virus stalking the MSM and drug-injecting communities and claiming more lives than HIV nationally. It's been a bone of contention for sexual health experts - many believe sexual contact isn't a common transmission route, yet low-risk isn't no risk, and in accordance with American CDC guidelines and the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) it's a bonafide STI.

So how many sexually-active MSM's in our community are aware of (or even requesting sexual health tests for) Hep C? Knowledge is power and we've been losing this fight for too long.

Last month ex-Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced a lacklustre $25.4 million 'preventon program' spread out amongst over six priority populations like gay and bisexual men, drug users and people from culturally-diverse backgrounds.

It was a paper-thin funding arrangement with nowhere near as much muscle as it could have had, it'll do little to stem the rise of HIV infections pushing 29,000 nationally (over 80% of which are gay males) and it pales in comparison to the taxpayer revenue enjoyed by religious chaplains knee-deep in our public school system.

Back in 2006 the Howard government introduced the perplexing National Schools Chaplaincy Program (NSCP), pouring over 90 million into the initiative throughout the first three years, and paving the way for religious indoctrination to seep into the psyches of our young people.


Despite a recent high-court victory powered by the plight of a concerned parent, which should have revoked federal expenditure for chaplains, the Scripture Union of Queensland received $6.2 million after the then-Labor government scrambled to amend legislation to keep religion-based counselling in the funding stream.

Our pollies in Canberra clearly feel the heat from the 'fire and brimstone' brigade of the Australian Christian Lobby and religious right-faction powerbrokers from both major parties (Joe De Bruyn here's looking at you), yet when it comes to protecting future generations from blood-borne viruses like HIV and Hepatitis C, our representatives have flunked the class.

In 2011 the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHC) conducted the first-ever survey of sex-ed teachers in secondary schools - and the results show shocking inadequacies in a system that's failing our kids.

One in five teachers had no formal training in sexual education, almost half of all teachers said they were "careful" about discussing the more sensitive areas of same-sex attraction and sexual abuse due to "adverse community reactions", and abstinence from intercourse was at the crux of the curriculum for most teachers throughout their pre-service training.

How can this be? We don't have the luxury of complacency, and we can't be scared to ruffle a few feathers for the sake of the greater good, because if we sit on our hands the STI endemic will continue to burgeon the longer we keep our mouths shut and hearts closed.

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About the Author

Robert Edward Smith is a Melbourne-based writer and equality enthusiast.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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