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Sexual Health (young people)

Being gay and lesbian

Many gay people told us that they found it difficult to find places to meet others. Gay clubs and pubs were popular but some people said they could be too focused on alcohol and sex.

 
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Explains that his participation in a gay support group came about because he was disillusioned...

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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Well, gay life happens, takes place mostly in clubs and in bars and such places where you can, well in bars you can drink and you can chat but in clubs you can't really chat.  You can drink and you can dance and you can look at people and there isn't, I think there is physically not that much of a possibility of getting to know other people. 

And back in [country], which is an extremely conservative country, there is a gay walking group for example. And if you go on a walk with someone then you are together for hours and you get to know the person and you can decide, do I like him, do I not like him, how do I want to relate to him in the future?  

So maybe this, it would be a good idea to introduce something like that here?

Yes, and the other thing I feel about the importance of sex, and sex only in gay people's lives, is that relationships take some trouble. And if you see examples of relationships or if you think that it's normal or even possible to have a romantic gay relationship, then you are much more likely to go for it than if the only thing you see around you are people picking up each other at nightclubs.

I went to a support group, actually not for any kind of support but to meet people because I was frustrated with the gay scene. After my first relationships I thought that I might not be able to, well I thought that it was full of people who were there for quick and unproblematic sex only. And what I want is not, well, surely also sex but I think I would like to have a proper relationship and I thought that the way to get that would be to go to a community where there were other gay youngsters to whom I could talk and discuss my life.

Some use the internet to meet people, particularly if they live in the countryside or away from cities. It's seen as a safe place for people who haven't yet 'come out' to talk to others but it's important to be careful when meeting people from dating sites in real life. 

Advice includes to always meet in a public place and to let a friend know who the person is and where the meeting is taking place and to get the person's telephone number. A few people find the websites and chatlines are limited because people only use them if they're looking for casual sex. 

 

Stresses the need to be selective when searching the internet.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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The internet I would say, if I now go and look for things I would imagine the internet is a form that I use, its not necessarily... and I would say the Department of Health's Site is quite good actually, the NHS Direct sort of site where you can look up things is quite a good and informative site, but a lot of the stuff on there is rubbish and you have to be very careful and selective where you choose. Not from that website, but from the internet in general.  

Can you tell me what do you find useful about the website from the Department of Health? 

Well it's factual, its got a search facility, you can search through and I think because it's the Department of Health, the information should be pretty much accurate and up to date whereas some of the sources on the net are anecdotal and you have to differentiate between, on other websites things are anecdotal, whereas this one you can be pretty confident it comes form a doctor or nurse or something who's qualified to actually talk about it.

Many of these groups run clubs or support groups where people can meet. As one person said, "You feel relief, you feel you are not alone and there are other people out there that have been through the same that can offer advice". 

Groups also have the advantage of giving information about sexuality or sexual health and provide a supportive environment where people can share experiences or ask questions, particularly about safer sex. 

 

Remembers when she first started participating in a support group and the activities they used to...

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Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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(The accompanying video and audio clips are played by an actor)

And how did you find out about the youth group?

It was a friend of a friend told me about it and he was like 'I went, I didn't really like it but you know, but it might be good for you,' sort of thing, I was like 'OK.'  So he told me, he told me the name of the group. He didn't have the number so I found the number and gave them a call.

I see. And how was the youth group different from the the club?

It was sort of activity based where you do things, it wasn't just like sitting and talking to people and making conversation. It wasn't based on that and also you'd do things like the very first group I went to, they were talking about stereotypes and it was getting into wee groups of people and draw a stereotype gay woman, draw a stereotype bi woman, draw a stereotype straight woman, and a stereotype transgender woman. So that, that was interesting, that was quite fun. And then you'd like build a life around that person' so what would this person do and what would that person do. 

It wasn't, I didn't enjoy it, I was pretty much scared doing it but when I left I felt good about having been there. So I thought I'll just keep going back and made friends.

So could you tell me a bit about where you got this information and what you think of it?

Aye. At youth group they do, they do evenings for, sexual health evenings where you have to do funny things. Like there was one time we did, we was, all the STDs were put in a hat and we had to pick an STD out and then go and research it and then dress yourself up as it like, like a fancy dress box. That was quite weird

That sounds challenging for some of them! - can I ask which, which one did you get, as it were?

I got thrush!

Oh right.

So I had a clowns wig on, a red clowns wig, that was the itchiness, and a yellow scarf, that was discharge. And, I can't remember what else I had but we had to dress up as the symptoms.

One man had done youth work in the inner city, he said that all his knowledge about sexually transmitted infections and the need for gay men to practice safe sex came from there.

 

Explains that his awareness about safe sex springs from working in a youth project and thinks...

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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Since I've been working for the youth organization, I've been working for a lesbian, gay, bisexual project before in [town], and that's when I started to find out about STD's properly. You know I heard a bit at school but it wasn't nothing that stuck in my mind until I actually worked for this organization. And I found that out, and found out quite a bit about STD's, which are now called STI's.

When I was doing voluntary work, when I started doing voluntary work, I was finding out a bit more about STI's and stuff like that. And it was quite, quite shocking actually how you can get STI's and stuff like that. And then reading up some information on stuff, and that's when I got my knowledge, from them.

Definitely at risk.

Why because you have had unprotected sex?

Yeah, in being a gay male I think you are more at risk if you have, if you have casual partners as well and you don't know where other people have been, if they have gone cruising in parks or, you never know what you're gonna pick up, so the best way I suppose is to use protection to, to be safe.

So why do you think gay people are more at risk?

Because a lot of people are frightened of coming out, or having relationships, or a lot of gay people are, that are not out, have wives and kids and then they go to toilets or parks to have sex with different partners. And they do it, some people do it every day, some people do it, you know, twice a week, three times a week and have sex with their wife as well, so the different sexual partners they have, you could catch anything, you know, crabs, all sorts.

It might seem horrible and weird the first time putting on a condom, you lose interest and stuff, but it's for your protection so, you know, it's the best way.

Safer sex information was appreciated by the gay people we spoke to because 'it's sort of street language, rather than sort of posh, scientific terms', although some said that it could be clearer.  

 
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Evaluates the sexual health literature available to gay people.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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But I think that sometimes even the scientists don't quite agree about whether one thing is safe or not. Whether oral sex is safe or not, as long as you don't swallow are very subtle things. And so actually, I received a lot of material and some of it was controversial or some things, I read some things here that in one brochure just contradicted another brochure. 

I have consulted Dutch and English brochures about safe sex. Some said that oral sex without a condom was safe as long as one didn't get any sperm in one's mouth, others that it wasn't. It seems partly to be a matter of approach' some of the advice I've read was strict and prescriptive - 'this is nonsense and you shouldn't do it' and some just characterized the risks and assumed that the reader could make his own choices - 'there is a chance for transmission but it is very small', which almost take it granted that there are some risks that one should just take. 

But it was daunting as I really didn't feel I could judge the sizes of these risks, especially without very concrete information about what  a 'very small risk' means. As far as I can remember, both approaches were present in both countries' brochures.

I think I would turn to the leaders of my youth group because they're quite experienced in such things and are knowledgeable and have their own realistic guidelines. My problem is that some safe sex, there are very few safe sex guidelines but there are some which either are extremely permissive and just warn you that if you do this or if you do that, if you have anal sex without a condom then you might get Aids. And that you should just be aware of this. 

And some, on the other hand, are extremely forbidding that you shouldn't have any sex at all without a condom. No oral sex least at without a condom and that's, it can get unpleasant and it's not good when you are in bed with someone to have to think about safe sex all the time. But I think I would trust my group leaders to have some kind of a workable attitude.

Most gay people feel there's a need to create an atmosphere where young gay people are able to develop their sexual identity and meet others in safety. A negative reaction about sexuality from friends or school in the past can cause problems.

 
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Is uncertain about his sexual identity.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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It's not discussed that much really, I think it's glossed over a lot, but I think it takes quite a lot of time for people to really come to terms with that as well, certainly with the people I went to school with and also I suppose me to some extent.   

I'm still not completely sure I suppose about my sexual identity and I think it, I think it's got a lot longer gestation than just being a teenage thing so I suppose in some respects there's kind of a reason why it's not that dealt with, but yeah it's a funny one because I think as tolerant as the world seems to be you know, gay and all that, they're still used as a huge insult really, especially in playground climes.

I mean it's a few years since I've been at school but there was definitely a culture of that, almost a sort of fear of it I think, so yeah I don't think it is really dealt with as openly as it possibly should be.

So at one level there is more talk about sex rather than sort of sexual identity?

Yeah definitely, sex is an act that's almost quite scientific it seems, almost like a biology class or something, so you know what's involved and know how to avoid things and all those kind of things. In terms of the construct that goes around that, no I didn't really find that was discussed and it's all very much geared up as well towards a kind of heterosexual family sort of unit, environment I suppose really, so anything that would stray from that isn't really discussed that much I suppose.

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated August 2012.

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