Commentary: Young Black Men, Please Take Your Sexual Health Seriously

Getting tested for HIV and STDs is not just a female thing. 

Posted: 06/09/2014 11:30 AM EDT

June marks National Men’s Health Month!

And while we will hear a lot about Black and men boys needing to focus on obesity, heart disease, prostate cancer, diabetes and strokes, it’s important to not forget one really important thing — your reproductive and sexual health.

Yes, I know that when we talk about reproductive and sexual health, we tend to only talk about women. Whether women are getting Pap smears, HPV vaccinations, birth control or are pregnant, we tend to see gynecologists more often. Plus, we have more organizations such as Planned Parenthood and a strong reproductive justice movement that makes these issues more visible and shape how we see this as a female thing. 

Unfortunately, men don’t really don’t have the same support.

Men most likely see a doctor when they are a kid and then can go decades without seeking care until they are faced with something really serious. And while being stubborn may keep men away from the doc, so does being disproportionately uninsured. You can’t see a doctor if you can’t pay for it. And prison shouldn’t be the best place for Black men to seek health care, like a 2011 study found.

So what does this all have to do with Black men’s sexual health?

A lot, given that Black folks, especially teens, bear the brunt of the STD epidemic in this country.

According to a 2009 CDC study, 48 percent of African-American female teens have been diagnosed with an STD. Gonorrhea rates among African-Americans are higher than any other racial or ethnic group and 20 times higher than that of whites. Blacks accounted for about 71 percent of reported gonorrhea cases and almost half of all chlamydia and syphilis cases.

And it when comes to HIV/AIDS, we already know where we stand on that.

And while women and girls are more likely to seek testing and treatment for STDs and HIV, without Black men doing the same our rates as a community will not get better. Fellas, you have to get tested and treated for any STDs you may have on a regular basis. Most importantly, you have to know your HIV status.

And I hear when some of you say things like “You don’t need it” or “Oh, I test through my girl. If she doesn’t have anything, I don’t either.”

But none of that makes any sense. 

It's possible that your girl could have an STD and not know because she hasn’t been tested or she isn’t showing symptoms. Also, you may have an STD and not even know because STDs in men a lot of times don’t have any symptoms. And untreated and undiagnosed STDs can render you infertile and even make you more vulnerable to contracting HIV.

Speaking of HIV, if you are a heterosexual man, don’t even try to act as if HIV is not your problem. Each year, 13,000 straight Black men are diagnosed with HIV in this country. I can only imagine how many more are out there and don’t know. 

Here's the thing: you don't have to fall through those cracks. No, Obamacare may not be perfect, but between that and Medicaid, millions more Americans can have better access to health care and get these much needed tests. 

So if you are one of those millions, what's stopping you from taking your sexual health seriously?

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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