Did you know that every hour 50 young people (aged between 15 and 24) are infected with HIV in eastern and southern Africa? Are you aware that globally, over the past decade, the number of adolescents dying due to AIDS-related illnesses has tripled - despite decreasing among all other age groups²? Have you heard that AIDS is now the number one cause of death among young people in Africa and the second leading cause of death among adolescents worldwide?
“The saddest thing about these statistics is that they can be prevented through appropriate education on sex, HIV and AIDS and where to go to get help. This is particularly true for young men who have sex with men (YMSM) who are at highest risk of HIV acquisition, yet for whom targeted prevention interventions are largely non-existent,” says Riaan Norval, Project Manager for Young Heroes, a campaign of Anova Health Institute. This campaign is spearheading the Young Heroes programme aimed at empowering YMSM to make safer sex choices.
He continues: “While sexual education currently falls under the Life Orientation curriculum in South African schools, studies have shown that several factors stand in the way of this being effective. These include teachers believing that teaching and talking about sex and sexuality will encourage learners to have sex, the refusal of some teachers to discuss homosexuality on cultural and religious grounds⁴, preference amongst teachers for abstinence-only education and the curriculum itself being heteronormative. As a result, many YMSM turn to pornography and their peers for their sexual education – sources which do little to promote HIV prevention.”
South Africa is unfortunately not alone in the lack of sex education in schools. A study in the United Kingdom revealed that nearly half of YMSM turned to pornography to learn about gay sex - seeing that 82% of them received no education about it in school. A number of respondents admitted that they engaged in unsafe or risky practices after watching porn.
Young Heroes was launched to address this gap in sexual education and awareness and equip young men with psychosocial tools and support for better health outcomes while they are in their teens and more importantly as adults. Young Heroes provides young men with information on how to protect themselves and their partners from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, safe spaces, access to resources and a supportive community through its social media, website and mobile platforms. It also ensures that YMSM have access to healthcare services that support sexual and mental health should they need it.
“In a country with the biggest HIV epidemic in the world, we cannot afford for our young people not to be armed with the necessary information to save their lives,” concludes Norval,
To learn more, visit the website and follow the Young Heroes YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages.
By Bruce J.Little
Fewer guys are using condoms these days, and there are a few reasons why this is not a good idea. Some guys that are HIV-negative are taking PrEP and feel that they no longer need condoms to prevent becoming HIV-positive, and other guys just prefer the sensation of condomless sex. But here’s the clincher: Having sex without a condom puts you at risk of more than just HIV.
Now, there is a solid argument about how much better it may feel to have sex that is skin-to-skin, but maybe we just need to see this in a new light. Perhaps we should make barebacking (condomless sex) the goal (exception) but not the rule, to minimise putting ourselves and others at risk. Maybe if we can save this very intimate and vulnerability causing way of having sex for special occasions. Occasions that we have prepared for and when we know the health status of our partner for sure.
Even if you are on PrEP, you need to have been taking it as prescribed for at least ten days for it to effectively prevent HIV transmission, and even then, you are still vulnerable to other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis, herpes and hepatitis. Many guys who have these STIs have no symptoms at all. You wouldn’t be able to see that they have it.
The prevalence of STIs and the fact that they have not been treated effectively is what has caused dangerous drug-resistant strains of these infections to become very common. It’s bad enough to have an STI, but to get an STI that is persistent and very difficult to treat is even worse.
Good old-fashioned condoms and water-based lube is still the best way to protect yourself from unwanted STIs.
When you hook up with someone that you know little to nothing about, it’s not worth taking the risk and having unprotected sex with him, because chances are that he may not even know that he has HIV or an STI. 1 in 6 HIV-positive people have no idea that they are positive and the number of people who have other STIs, but have no idea, is much, much bigger!
By Bruce J. Little
Not sure if it’s me getting older and more set in my ways, or just wishful thinking, but I am finding it so much easier to be single this time around. I know, I know… When someone goes on about how “happy” they are to be single, it’s usually a case of trying to convince others to try and convince yourself. But this time it really isn’t all that bad! In fact, it has its awesome moments. It only took me five minutes back on the “Grind” as a new singleton to see how many people in open relationships there are in Jozi alone. Plench! And I’ve come to realise that relationships and how we define them are rapidly mutating and changing to meet our needs. It’s exciting to think that I can define the boundaries of my next relationship to suit my needs as well as those of my partner. We won’t have to conform to anybody else’s standards. But I’m in no rush for that to happen because my current singular status has its benefits. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being someone’s boyfriend. I loved the nesting and cuddling and Netflix and chilling, but I’m also really enjoying being able to watch whatever I feel like watching now. I have a lot of freedom at the moment and can do whatever I feel like whenever I feel like doing it, and it’s quite rad. Being a considerate person, I find myself regularly considering the person I am in a relationship with. But at present I can be selfish and consider myself. I’m taking it easy and it’s great. I’m taking care of myself, working on improving and building myself up. I’m giving myself TLC and I’ve come to realise that it’s something that I do very well. I’ve always known that I have a lot of love to give, and now I’m enjoying reflecting some of that good stuff back at myself.
There are so many options open to me. I can go on dates, or I can stay at home in my PJs watching series and eating almond butter out of the jar, if that’s what I want to do. Because I like to keep having options, I always ensure that I have condoms and water-based lube somewhere on hand or in my car’s cubbyhole, just in case “summin summin” should come up. I also make sure I replace them regularly and don’t let them expire. I’m not really big on one-night-stands anymore. I can be as frigid as a Friar or represent the “hoe is life” philosophy and embrace “Hoeism” if taken by the spirit at a later stage, and what’s more? I can change these states of mind from day to day as it suits me.
If I eventually do start to lean more towards the “Hoeism” side of the spectrum I could also consider the possibility of going on PrEP. I have choices. I have a lot of power to decide these things for myself and it feels good being able to exercise these choices. No man is an island, but at this stage of my journey I am finding that being just one is a load of fun.
Bruce J. Little is a contributing writer for Anova Health Institute. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.
By Bruce J. Little
Having shingles is no joke. It’s caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, and even if you’ve already had chickenpox, it doesn’t mean you’re safe from ever getting shingles.
Once you’ve had chickenpox the virus stays in your body forever and if you are elderly, your immune system becomes weak, or you get very stressed, the virus can get reactivated, which can cause a case of shingles. Luckily, it’s easy to treat, and you can get treated for shingles at a Health4Men Clinic near you, for free.
What is shingles? At first, it appears as a rash on an area of your skin. It can appear as a patch or a band around one section of your body, but it doesn’t appear all over the body as chickenpox does. It rarely crosses the mid-line of the body i.e. the blisters occur on one side or the other but not both The rash gradually becomes a series of red blisters and these eventually dry out and then flake off. Shingles can be very painful and can also be accompanied by itching, tingling, headaches and swollen glands under the arms and around the throat. Some people also develop sores on their genitals. You should go to your nearest doctor or clinic if you have any of these symptoms.
If you have a weak immune system or you are HIV-positive and are not receiving ARV treatment, you may be more vulnerable to reactivation of the chickenpox virus,which causes shingles.
You can get shingles if your immune system is weak and you are exposed to someone who has the chickenpox or shingles virus. When someone has a shingles skin rash, especially if blisters are present, then that person is very contagious to anyone who has never had shingles or chickenpox before. The fluid in the blisters contains a large amount of chickenpox virus which is transmittable.
Most cases of shingles go away by themselves after about three weeks, but pain medication and antiviral medication can help to speed up the healing process and make it a lot less painful. Proper treatment also lowers the risk of residual pain which sometimes occurs even after the rash has healed.
Isolation and loneliness are hazardous to your health. Studies show that depression caused by feelings of alienation and isolation can be as harmful to your health as obesity, or chugging half a pack of cigarettes a day!
Health4Men is currently running a campaign encouraging men who have sex with men to go and get tested for HIV with a close friend, for support. It’s based on the premise that we are braver when we do things together. But this is not just a great strategy for how to deal with the anxiety you may have about your HIV status; it’s also a good strategy when it comes to your mental health too. Here are a few points to ponder that will help you to reach out and connect with someone if you need to, for your good mental health:
• Everybody hurts some times. Feeling lonely is very common, and almost everyone will experience it from time to time. Things happen in our childhood that makes us feel abandoned for some or other reason, and then, when we get older, something random can trigger a memory of this feeling of abandonment, and so we become overwhelmed with a feeling of isolation or aloneness. It’s important to remember at these times that loneliness is often just a feeling and not a fact. You may feel lonely, but in truth, there are probably many people who would love the opportunity to connect with you, given the opportunity.
• Connecting with other people is the best way to deal with stress, anxiety and depression. The reason that group therapy has such a great success rate is that we all respond much better to treatment or challenges when we feel that we are “all in this together”. Being part of a collective reminds us that we are in fact not alone, which is something that depression and reclusive behaviour can allow us to start to believe is true. Joining a yoga group or a hiking society can make a world of difference to your outlook on life.
• Get over yourself. Obsessing over your life and how you feel about it can actually aggravate feelings of alienation and despair. Try to focus on others for a while and see things from their perspective. You may become inspired by how bravely other people are battling their fears and personal demons. Compassion is a strange thing, when we have compassion for others, it causes others to start treating us in a similar way, and nothing can connect two souls better than cars of compassion running on a two-way street. Kindness is the same. Relationships and marriages that work for many years have been founded on good habits of treating one another with kindness.
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