How Does My Sexual Orientation Correlate With Getting HCV?

Correlation Between Heterosexual and Homosexual or Bisexual People

It is very common that myths about sexuality run rampant and lead people to believe that  being gay or being bisexual leads someone to being either automatically infected with illnesses or that they are at an increased risk for contracting illnesses due to their sexuality. However, this is not the case. First of all, a person’s sexuality does not say anything about the number of partners the person may have had, may be having, or may have in the future. Secondly, a person’s sexuality does not determine whether the person uses safer sex practices, such as the use of regular testing, pregnancy prevention, and the use of condoms. There is currently no proof that oral or anal sexual contact can pass the virus on to a partner. Lastly, hepatitis C is not considered to be commonly sexually transmitted and basic safer sex practices protect partners of any orientation. So a person’s sexuality or number of sexual partners has very little to do with whether they are at risk for hepatitis C.

However, people deal with their sexuality in many different ways. Depending where they live and how they anticipate the reaction from their loved ones, some people feel comfortable and safe coming out as soon as they become aware of their sexual orientation. Some people are uncertain of their orientation and feel safe enough to experiment with partners before deciding what label, if any, fits bets for them. Unfortunately, however, not everyone feels safe in this discovery process. Some also do not feel safe being open about their sexual orientation. This may be motivated by fears of upsetting family members, it may come from fears of safety or assault because of where they live, and it may come from internalized homophobia or biphobia due to living in a world where there are slurs and bigotry. It may also come from a generalized sense of fear that the person has not explored enough to articulate exactly why the fear is present. For people struggling with this fear, some choose to try to numb the fear or try to hide from a sexual orientation they are not comfortable with.

Sometimes, when people try to protect themselves from their realities, they choose to engage in activities that may not otherwise be how they see themselves in the world. They may choose activities that are risky because the risks involved are known to them, which seem less scary than the unknown risks of facing their fears. In some cases, these risks involve IV drug use to use the high to escape from the fear or turning emotional pain into physical pain by getting tattooed at inexpensive unlicensed tattoo parlors. In these cases, the person may become exposed to the hepatitis C virus through the use of contaminated needles. The hepatitis C virus is primarily transported from person to person through blood or blood products, which means that, if a needle has been inserted or used on someone who has the virus, the virus can be passed to the next person who uses that needle.

Hepatitis C Testing

Some gay or bisexual people may be afraid of being tested for hepatitis C. There can be such strong fears of what doctors may find that all sorts of people fear visiting their doctors. However, there is an additional assumption by some members of society that being gay or being bisexual means not being as clean or as pure as heterosexual people. Although not true, this misconception can lead some gay or bisexual people to avoid getting tested for illnesses and infections out of a desire to not further that bigoted belief. This can cause any viruses in the body to grow and cause more damage because there is so much time between infection and the beginning of any type of treatment. It can also lead to further spreading of the virus as someone who is unaware of their hepatitis C status may be exposing others to the virus.

When the testing process begins, the procedure is no different for a gay or bisexual person than it is for a heterosexual person. Treatment is also not based on the patient’s sexual orientation, nor is the cure rate. There is nothing inherently riskier in terms of hepatitis C infection for a person who identifies as gay or bisexual than there is for a person who identifies as heterosexual. The risks come solely from the behaviors of the individual, regardless of their orientation or how they publicly identify. However, it is believed that societal, familial, and internal acceptance of all sexualities helps to prevent people from feeling the need to hide themselves or feel a sense of shame. Generally, when feelings of safety and love increase, the need for survival behaviors such as IV drug use or inexpensive tattooing decrease, and that leads directly to lowering the risk of exposure to the hepatitis C virus.1-5

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