Monkeypox has been in the news a lot, and it’s being reported on as a “gay disease.” Calling it this is not only inaccurate, but dangerous to folks both in and outside of the gay community.
For background, monkeypox is a contact infection. This means you can get it by coming into close, personal contact with someone who has it. One way it’s often transmitted is during sex, since when having sex, individuals are in very close contact for an extended period of time. But that is not the only way Monkeypox can be spread. Cuddling, hugging, and kissing can pass the infection; so can sharing clothes, towels, or sheets.
It’s even possible to spread it through contact like holding hands. Say a person has a monkeypox rash on their hand, and holds another person’s hand while walking down the street. The other person has now been exposed to monkeypox and can get it.
Another example: you are having a whisper conversation and close proximity with another person. Since it can be spread through respiratory droplets at very close quarters, you have now been exposed.
So, back to the portrayal of monkeypox as a “gay disease.” First, this stigmatizes the gay community. It’s true that, so far, this outbreak has largely affected gay men, but it’s not because only gay men can get it. It’s because the gay community is relatively small and likely to be in close proximity to each other often, and any illness will spread faster among people who closely associate.
As Monkeypox continues to spread, though, it will likely move outside the gay community more and more. Gay men do not exclusively associate with other gay men, after all. There is overlap between communities. Stigmatizing gay men as the exclusive carriers of monkeypox does nothing but harm the community.
It’s dangerous to the general public to characterize monkeypox as only something gay men get. Anyone can get monkeypox with the right exposure, and as I established above, it can be spread non-sexually. If a person believes they cannot get it because they are not gay (and I have absolutely heard people say that), they may not take steps to protect themselves. If they develop symptoms, they may not seek medical care for it because they think, “it can’t be monkeypox.”
Healthcare providers are not immune to misconception, either, and if a provider who sees a straight patient, female patient, or minor with monkeypox symptoms, they may not consider it as a possibility and provide proper treatment.
If you think you have been exposed to monkeypox, or are showing symptoms (which you can find on the CDC’s website), contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible for testing, vaccination, and other treatments as appropriate. And please, please educate others. Stop the stigma, and protect your community.
Kim Adamski is a Sexual Health Educator in West Hartford.