STDs In the Transgender Population

With an estimated 1 million adults in America being thought to identify themselves as transgender, the issue of STDs in this segment of the population is a really important one. What is the current situation like when it comes to STDs? Are people within this segment more at risk? Is this really still an issue considering all the information we have on safe sex? In this article, we’ll look at the answers to these questions and more.

Are Some People in This Segment More at Risk?

According to the CDC, statistics indicate that there were 2351 diagnosed cases of HIV, where those tested identified themselves as transgender, between 2009 and 2014. What was more significant about these stats, however, was that 84% of those who tested positive were transgender women.

So, according to the stats, transgender women are clearly more at risk of contracting HIV.

Is This Really Still an Issue Considering All the Information We Have on Safe Sex?

Well, perhaps not surprisingly, yes. There has been a lot done to educate people about safe sex but, let’s be honest, we are not always good at doing what is best for us. And while there is a lot of information out there, it is normally tailored to traditional gender roles.

According to the CDC’s statistics for 2013, the percentage of those in the transgender population being diagnosed as having HIV was over three times what the national average was. This indicates that there is a real issue when it comes to protecting against STDs.

And, while there are some statistics fairly readily available when it comes to HIV and the transgender community, there is a fairly shocking lack of research into STDs in general. The lack of actual data makes it harder to develop programs for combatting STDs that are effective.

Interventions that are currently being put in place are usually adapted from interventions originally developed for other groups deemed to be at risk.


A Lack of Understanding

Part of the problem is that there is a lack of understanding when it comes to what it means to be transgender. People simply don’t understand the issues that transgender people have to face.

For example, when it comes to HIV studies, gay men are considered to be a group that is “at risk.” Transgender women may mistakenly get lumped into the same category. We need to start looking at the individuals within the community and stop trying to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution.

We also need to start studying the effectiveness of the interventions that have been implemented.

Transgender People Are Made to Feel Ashamed

Because of the lack of understanding in general, there is still a stigma attached to being transgender. Transgender people face being rejected by their family and communities, discrimination and exclusion. They are made to feel as if there is something wrong with them, as if they should be ashamed for being who they are.

This can lead to issues such as poor self-esteem and an increased participation in behaviors that are considered risky. People who suffer from stress and anxiety may turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Drugs and alcohol lower inhibitions and make it harder to make good choices. This may be a contributing factor when it comes to the transgender community as well.

Lack of Education

In addition, transgender people may face insensitivity or a basic lack of education when it comes to health care providers. Transgenders have unique needs and not many health care providers have the training to identify these and offer the correct medical advice. Some transgender people face blatant discrimination and judgement from health care providers.

This may lead to them having a bad experience when it comes to health care, and this can discourage them from seeking help in future. They might not want to go in and be tested for STDs and so might not get the treatment that they need. They might also not want to take advantage of educational interventions regarding risk reductions for the same reason.

The lack of education in general about transgender issues can also be part of the problem. Transgender people may not themselves know what constitutes safe sex for them because sex education is primarily based on traditional gender roles.

There is also a lot of misinformation out there. STDs like gonorrhea are bacterial infections and can be passed on through oral sex as well. So, for example, people may mistakenly believe that they are safe if they only perform oral sex when there is actually a risk of contracting an STD from it as well.

What Can Be Done to Reduce the Risk of Contracting an STD?

When it comes to reducing the risk of contracting an STD in the transgender population, or any other for that matter, prevention is better than cure.

  • Safe Sex: Using protection when having sex is crucial. A condom is one of the best ways to protect yourself from contracting an STD. This applies for intercourse, anal and oral sex. This rule should only be relaxed when you are in a committed relationship.
  • Regular Testing: When it comes to STDs, you usually won’t be able to tell if someone has one or not. Many STDs are asymptomatic, especially early on in the infection. Everyone who is sexually active should have at least one checkup per year where they are tested for STDs.
  • Having Fewer Sex Partners: The more sex partners you have, the higher the chance is that you will contract some form of STD.
  • Getting Tested with Your Partner: It makes sense to get tested with your partner when entering into a new relationship and to have checkups at least once a year together. That way, you will each know if you have contracted an STD.
  • Don’t Share Needles: Sharing a needle with someone makes it easier to contract a blood-borne disease such as HIV. And this applies as much to prescription drugs as it does to illegal ones. If you are, for example, injecting hormones as part of your gender reassignment surgery, it’s important to ensure that you are the only one that uses the needle.

STDs within the transgender community is an issue that does not receive enough attention. Fortunately, armed with a little knowledge, you can keep yourself safe and healthy.


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