As a Bisexual Man, STI Conversations are Very Different among Men and Women

By Zachary Zane February 14, 2019

There’s a reason why the medical community has opted to use the term “safer sex” instead of safe sex. Sex, unfortunately, even when condoms are used, isn’t 100% safe. There’s always risk of transmitting viruses and infections. As consenting adults, we willingly take the risks when we choose to have sex with a partner.


While there are some tactics recommended by health professionals to reduce risk of infection, such as using a condom when performing oral sex on a man, I can tell you now I am never going to blow a man once he’s wrapped it up. Have I contracted oral gonorrhea because of this? Yes, I have. Am I going to start blowing men with condoms because as the physician’s assistant told me, “You’ve now learned your lesson”? No, absolutely not. It’s like, let me live a little.


There have been also times in my life where my condom use has been subpar, especially once I started PrEP. Again, it’s a choice my partners and I have made, both well aware of the risks.


In my years of sex with hundreds of partners of all genders, I’ve contracted gonorrhea and chlamydia a handful of times, which of course, warranted telling my partners. If you’re having a lot of sex, even “safely,” odds are you will still, at some point, contract at least one STI.


As a bisexual man, I’ve noticed the “talk” with partners following news of a positive diagnosis differs depending on the person’s gender.


Cisgender gay and bisexual men tend to respond more nonchalantly. In fact, most gay men respond positively, grateful that I let them know, instead of allowing the stigma of STIs to impede me from disclosing the news.


Depending on how I met the guy, it would also be somewhat hypocritical for him to get mad. It’s tough to justify anger when, after exchanging only a few words and a handful of nudes on Grindr, you decided to get plowed raw by a guy you didn’t know. You made that choice just as much as he did.


Needless to say, this isn’t all men. Some gay men have gotten annoyed, but less so with me, and more so with the overall situation. It was more of a, “Urgh, I don’t know when I’ll have time to go in and get tested and treated.”


When I’ve had this conversation with women, generally, they don’t respond as positively (no pun intended) as men and for good reason. STIs affect the health of cisgender men and women very differently. According to the CDC, untreated STIs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can result in ectopic pregnancy or infertility. Roughly 24,000 women a year experience infertility in the United States because of untreated STIs. Unlike men, who often have very clear signs of STIs – every time I contracted gonorrhea I had a green discharge and I knew exactly what it was – women are less likely to have symptoms of common STIs.


Then – and I know I’m beginning to sound a little like those horrifying sex-ed videos from middle school – there’s also Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is the most common sexually transmitted infection in women and leading cause of cervical cancer and some throat cancers. While HPV is very common in men, the vast majority of times, guys do not develop any health problems from having it. In fact, there’s no approved test for men to check their HPV status, so even if they wanted to know if they were a carrier in order to tell their partners, they can’t.


Last but not least, women are still stigmatized for simply being sexual. The double standard between men and women for wanting and having sex carries into how women are perceived more negatively than men for contracting an STI. For all these reasons, it makes complete sense that women wouldn’t have the same nonchalant response as gay/bisexual men do, as has been the case in my experience. There’s far more at stake for women both physically and emotionally.


I’ve been yelled at by women upon informing them that I have an STI, hearing things like, “I thought you said you were clean.” While not the correct terminology to use, it’s what’s been said to me. I’ve also been told after having sex, “If you gave me an STD, I’ll fucking kill you.” When she said that, I knew she wasn’t joking.


I’m aware that I exist in a unique place as a bi man who sleeps with both men and women. STIs, in a bizarre way, are part of gay culture. They’re something we openly discuss, likely because the AIDS epidemic disproportionately affected the queer male community, so we were forced to start openly talking about viruses and diseases that could be transmitted through sex. With modern medicine, you can live a normal, healthy, and fulfilling life as person living with HIV, and the advent of PrEP has created more options for prevention and opportunities for discussion.


Not everyone is used to taking ownership of their sexual health, and a lack of sexual health education can cause fear-based judgements and shaming. This perpetuates the negative cycle of not openly discussing STIs due to shame, which results in transmitting more STIs, which leads to more shame and more STIs!


That’s why straight folks need to take a page from queer men. It’s necessary to openly discuss STIs and to not judge someone for telling you that they may have accidentally transmitted something to you. If anything, you should thank them for being responsible enough to let you know, so you can go in and get tested and if necessary, treated, before it becomes a larger health issue.


Especially when the vast majority of the time, all it takes is a couple antibiotics and a shot to treat – I’m thinking the popular three: syphilis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia – it is honestly, not that big of a deal. I’m not saying don’t protect yourself, you should, but also recognize that currently, the worst part of getting an STI is telling people, not the infection itself. It’s ridiculous that’s the case.


So go out and there and get laid, and if someone you’re sleeping with comes back to tell you to get tested, don’t panic, don’t shame, and definitely don’t be an angry, judgmental prick.


Zachary Zane is a Brooklyn-based writer, speaker, and activist whose work focuses on lifestyle, sexuality, culture, and entertainment. He was formerly the digital associate editor at OUT Magazine.His work has been featured in Rolling StoneWashington PostPlayboy, and more.