Talking about your sexual health with your doctor is very important no matter what your sexual preference is. If you’re a man who has sex with other men, there are specific health issues you should discuss with your doctor. You may be more susceptible to a range of health conditions. These include sexually transmitted infections (STIs), mental health conditions, and substance abuse.

Your doctor can also recommend ways to stay safe in your sexual relationships and check your body image as it relates to your sexuality.

You may have concerns about disclosing your sexual identity to your doctor. But it’s important that you’re honest with them. The conversations you have in the exam room are confidential, and your doctor is bound by law to protect your personal information.

Honest dialogue between you and your doctor can lead to education about conditions you may be susceptible to. You may also learn of a possible diagnosis of an underlying condition related to your sexual health. Lastly, you might find out some ways to prevent certain diseases. Still, if you ever feel discriminated against or uncomfortable during your exam, you should look for a new doctor.

Here are five reasons why it’s necessary to bring up your sexual health with your doctor.

It’s very important to learn how to protect yourself against STIs, especially if you’re a man who has sex with other men. From 2005 to 2014, the number of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) diagnoses rose by 6 percent in the gay and bisexual population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

STIs are conditions that you can contract during sexual encounters and can easily spread. Some can have very few outward symptoms. You would never know if you or your sexual partner had one without getting tested first. STIs can have serious health consequences, like developing diseases such as cancer and AIDS.

Examples of STIs include:

  • HIV
  • chlamydia
  • gonorrhea
  • syphilis
  • herpes (HSV)
  • human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • hepatitis A, B, and C

Doctors can cure some STIs, but not all. Some, like HIV and herpes, are chronic. If you receive a diagnosis of HIV, you’ll have to take medication daily for life to prevent the condition from worsening.

Your doctor can discuss the risks of these STIs. They may recommend that you get tested for them depending on your sexual history. Your doctor can also discuss the frequency you should be tested for STIs, any vaccinations they recommend against certain STIs, and medications you can take if you have an HIV-positive sexual partner.

A conversation about safe sex practices should go hand in hand with STIs. Your doctor can discuss protective measures you can take when having sex to prevent the spread of STIs. This includes ways to protect yourself leading up to sexual relationships with a partner and during sex.

You or your doctor may want to discuss condom and lubricant use to ensure you have protected sex.

Condoms are a barrier method to prevent the spread of STIs when having sex. Your doctor may outline safe condom use, such as using condoms made from latex or other synthetic materials. They may also instruct you how to correctly put on a condom.

Your doctor can also discuss using a water- or silicone-based lubricant. This can decrease the chances of the condom breaking or malfunctioning.

Sexual positions may also be a topic to discuss with your doctor. If your partner has HIV, where you position yourself during sex can increase or decrease your chances of becoming infected with the virus. Being on top, or inserting your penis, during anal sex decreases your chances of getting HIV. Receiving anal sex, or being on the bottom, increases the possibility of contracting the condition.

Other behaviors that can reduce your chances of becoming infected with an STI include:

  • keeping the number of sexual partners in your lifetime low
  • engaging in a monogamous relationship with a sexual partner
  • avoiding situations where you may become intoxicated and engage in risky sexual behaviors
  • getting tested with your partner before having a sexual relationship

STIs aren’t the only reason to discuss sexual health with your doctor. Your sexual identity and relationships can affect your body image. You may find that body image is an important factor in your self-image. This can lead to engaging in destructive or unhealthy behaviors to meet an ideal body type.

Men who have sex with other men may be more at risk of developing eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. You may feel pressure to maintain a very fit figure. On the flip side, you may feel pressure to maintain a fuller, less fit figure. This can lead to other negative health consequences.

Your doctor can discuss your body image with you and the health consequences of trying to maintain a certain look. They can also discuss the ways you can take care of your health while avoiding the pitfalls of trying to maintain an ideal body.

Your mental health can be closely intertwined with your sexual health. This is particularly true of men who have sex with other men. You may be more at risk for developing a mental health condition, for reasons such as:

  • stigma or discrimination
  • whether you’re “out” or keep your sexuality a secret from family, friends, and others
  • health conditions like STIs
  • substance abuse
  • the threat of violence

Your doctor can evaluate your mental health. They can also make recommendations for treatment and support to ensure your emotional well-being.

Talk to your doctor about your use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. You may be at risk for substance abuse if you have sex with other men. This may relate to cultural barriers about sexuality or your behaviors surrounding sex.

The use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs can have long-term consequences on your health. Additionally, behaviors associated with the use of alcohol and drugs may increase your chances of unsafe sex that leads to STIs.

Your doctor can outline methods to cut down or reduce your use of harmful substances.

Discussing your sexual health with a doctor goes beyond your sex life. Doctors can ensure you’re aware of risks related to having sex. They can also check your body image, mental health, and use of harmful substances. Seeing a doctor for these many issues will ensure that you stay healthy throughout your life.