The World Health Organization has recommended that men who have sex with other men limit the number of their sexual partners.
The WHO’s monkeypox expert Rosamund Lewis says that 99% of reported monkeypox cases in the US are men, according to CNBC. Lewis also adds that 95% are men who have sex with other men (or MSM).
Over the weekend, the WHO declared a global health emergency in response to the monkeypox outbreak. The virus is primarily spread through skin-to-skin contact during sex or potentially contaminated objects like clothing or towels. Because of this, Lewis worries that the virus’s spread could get worse.
“If there’s no intervention in a circumstance where there’s a lot of skin-to-skin contact on a regular basis, perhaps in the context of multiple partnerships or contact with anonymous partners, then that would be a circumstance, without intervention, where the virus can spread more easily,” Lewis warns.
But did we just get slut shamed by the WHO? Concerns for public health and safety are valid, but there’s a growing concern about stigma around the topic. Public health experts stress that monkeypox is relevant to everyone. The virus can infect anyone, and, according to NPR, two U.S. children have already been diagnosed with the virus.
“While we may be seeing clusters primarily in certain groups of people, viruses do not discriminate by race, by religion, or by sexual orientation,” infectious disease researcher Dr. Boghuma Titanji told NPR.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus then called on health experts to reach out to MSM communities and fight stigmas being spread around the topic.
“For men who have sex with men, this includes for the moment, reducing your number of sexual partners, reconsidering considering sex with new partners, and exchanging contact details with any new partners to enable follow up if needed,” Tedros said before adding, “The stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus and can fuel the outbreak. As we have seen with Covid-19 misinformation, and this information can spread rapidly online.”
At a Tuesday briefing, White House adviser Dr. Ashish Jha urged people not to “use this moment to propagate homophobic or transphobic messaging.” Jha then asked that people stick to the facts and evidence.
Despite this virus largely being reported and discussed as a “gay disease,” the fact that it’s a danger to everyone is still that. A fact. According to CNN, more than 3,500 cases of monkeypox have been diagnosed in the US. Yet, CDC officials have said they don’t have detailed demographic information on all those cases.
“We are not going to end HIV, and we’re certainly not going to curtail the monkeypox epidemic, by trying to shame people into not having sex or only having certain types of sex with certain people,” Jason Cianciotto, Vice President of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, noted the importance of sharing correct information. “When you equip people with the information they need to make healthy choices for themselves and for their community, and when you help them approach those decisions with self-love and acceptance, it’s amazing what the community is able to achieve.”