HOUSTON VOICE • DECEMBER 29, 2000
Health concerns, lack of knowledge highlight 2000
Party-goers drink to health at the dawn of the New Year, but in a review of the year's
most notable health-related news, lifestyle concerns marched to the forefront of debate
about the health of gay men and lesbians.
From smoking to body image, from oral sex to barebacking, debates about the root of
AIDS and the federal government's "Healthy People 2010" report reveal a surprising lack
of conclusive evidence about health concerns specific to gay men, and especially lesbians.
A smoking gun. Gay men smoke at rates nearly twice that of the general U.S. male population, and researchers offered explanations ranging from tobacco prevention measures that
fail gay men, to tobacco ad campaigns that have been successful in attracting them. A tendency to drink heavily and socialize frequently in bars is also believed to be a factor for gay
A lesbian health study released last year also indicated that lesbians have similar
habits, including much higher rates of alcohol consumption and tobacco use for lesbians
than for all women. In response, the American Legacy Foundation will spend $300 million
a year over the next four years on public health education on the dangers of tobacco use,
and a portion of these funds will be earmarked for gays.
The gay male image. Recent studies show that gay men experience greater body-dissatisfaction than heterosexual men, which in turn contributes to higher rates of eating disorders among gay men. Barriers to healthy self-image in gay men have been shown to
resemble those faced by heterosexual women.
In addition to contributing to the onset of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, distorted body image can also lead to steroid use and sexual anxiety. Intemabzed homophobia
also greatly contributes to lower self-esteem and body image, as gay men and lesbians aggressively act out society's negative messages about homosexuality upon their own bodies.
The safety in barebacking? Some sex-positive activists insist barebacking is safe when
both men are seroconcordant, or have the same HIV status. But medical experts beg to differ, arguing that not only can HIV-positive individuals become "re-infected" through exposure to a more virulent strain, but that resistance to drugs may be affected. Better-understood risks of engaging in unprotected sex include the transmission of sexually transmitted
diseases like gonorrhea, herpes, hepatitis and syphilis Which activate the immune system
and allow the HIV virus to become more active.
An African solution to AIDS. The HIV/AIDS epidemic's epicenter, South Africa, hosted the 13th
International AIDS Conference this year. Figures indicate
that at least 10 percent, possibly up to 20 percent, of South
Africa's 44 million people are HIV-positive, and the vast
majority don't know they're infected.
South African President Thabo Mbeki backed away
from his stand that HIV didn't cause AIDS after an international round of condemnation from researchers and
healthcare officials. Mbeki insisted that he's looking for
an African Solution" to the question of whether AIDS is
caused by HIV or simple, extreme poverty. Some 5,000
scientists, doctors and AIDS professionals released the
"Dtlrban Declaration," an unprecedented statement
claiming the link between HIV and AIDS is "clear-cut,
exhaustive and unambiguous."
U.S. health officials include gays. For the first time,
the nation's long-range health planning document mentions sexual orientation. But gay health advocates say gay
concerns deserve more attention than they receive in
"Healthy People 2010." The ways in which health data
has been gathered in the past 10 years limits the soundness of conclusions and projections that can be made about the health of gays, some
In response, the Department of Health and Human Service's Health Resources and
Services Administration awarded the San Francisco-based Gay & Lesbian Medical
Association a $25,000 grant to publish a separate paper on gay and lesbian issues, the
release of which will coincide with the January release of the government's "Healthy
GLMA has also successfully lobbied to have questions regarding sexual orientation
added to the individual academic and government research projects whose results eventually make up large documents like "Healthy People 2010."
HIV and oral sex. Almost eight percent of newly infected gay men contracted HIV
through oral sex, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The receptive
partner in oral sex is at the most risk, and simply abstaining from ejaculating into the
mouth is not sufficient to prevent transmission because pre-ejaculate also contains HIV,
the CDC reported. The agency did not have data confirming transmission of HIV through
Judge Edwin Cameron, a gay,
HIV positive high court judge in
South Africa, said during an
International AIDS conlerence
that he wishes more people with
HIV would be public about it, but
the stigma in Africa is too great.
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cunnilingus, though experts acknowledged that
HIV can be present in vaginal secretions and
menstrual blood, making transmission theoretically possible.