STI testing campaign advertising in Glasgow for gay and Bi men

Porn and Sexually Transmitted Infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STI), also referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and venereal diseases (VD), are infections that are commonly spread by sex, especially vaginal intercourse, anal sex and oral sex. Most STIs initially do not cause symptoms. This results in a greater risk of passing the disease on to others.

Porn has two different roles in how we can think about our sex lives may have health consequences.

First, if you are watching porn and masturbating , but not having sex with anyone, you are safe from catching any infectious STI. This is absolutely true, but it is not the whole story. You are still vulnerable to health problems that are learned rather than caught by infection. If you are a man, by watching lots of porn you are still exposing yourself to potential longer-term problems with porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED), anorgasmia or delayed ejaculation. If you are a woman your porn viewing may be training your body to prefer sex toys or masturbation rather than physical intimacy with real partners.  Heavy porn watchers are physically training for the wrong sport.

Second, by watching porn, you are mentally training your sexual preferences to want to repeat what you see in porn. Most commonly viewed porn is a condom-free zone. This sets up a desire in your mind to ignore condoms for intercourse or other physical barriers like dental dams when having oral sex.

Safe sex

Safer sex practices such as use of condoms, having a smaller number of sexual partners, and being in a relationship where each person only has sex with the other also decreases the risk. The biggest killers are HIV and HPV. Here is some basic information about them.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes HIV infection and over time acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV is one of the most deadly diseases on the planet, ranking number 2 on the list of infectious diseases by the World Health Organisation. In 2014 it killed about 1.4 million people and about 35 million other people were living with it. In the USA about 1.1 million people have it, but about one-in-eight doesn’t know, making them very high risk in terms of transmitting the disease.

Human Papilomavirus or HPV is a small sized DNA virus that infects skin and wet surfaces of the body like the mouth, vagina, cervix and anus. There are more than 100 different types of HPV. The most common types are found on the skin and appear as warts seen on the hand. Some HPV types also infect the genital areas of males and females. Genital HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US and worldwide. There are at least 40 HPV types that can affect the genital areas. Some of these are “low-risk” and cause genital warts while “high-risk” types can cause cervical or other types of genital cancer. The high-risk HPV types may also cause a form of throat cancer, called oropharyngeal cancer, which is becoming more common in the US and Europe.

HPV viruses have long been known to be present in the genital area and to be a significant cause of cervical, vulvar, penile, and anogenital cancer. It is believed that an increased number of people are engaging in sexual activity with multiple partners and engage in oral sex practices and as a result are contracting HPV in the head and neck region, resulting in a higher rate of oropharynx cancers. A more detailed introduction to HPV can be found here.

Getting help

There are lots of other STIs which are less likely to be fatal diseases, but they are still bad for your health. It is never a nice idea to give someone else a disease!

If you are sexually active, getting advice or support from sexual health professionals is always wise.

In Glasgow we recommend Sandyford, which also offers specialist services for gay and bi men through the Steve Retson Project. In Edinburgh the go-to people are Lothian Sexual Health.