There seems to be no doubt that the two main reservoirs of venereal disease in this country at present are the promiscuous female and the promiscuous ‘passive’ homosexual male, neither of whom necessarily exhibits any symptom or sign of the disease. At one time homosexual patients used to express surprise that they could have been infected with venereal disease by contacts with their own sex, but now nearly all of them rightly seem to realise that they are just as likely to contract it homo sexually as heterosexually.
It is difficult to be sure that there is now a higher incidence of venereal disease amongst homosexuals than there used to be, because before the 1939-45 war patients were much more reticent about admitting any form of sex contact; but during a year’s work in a VD clinic in those days can only remember treating three or four patients who admitted having had homosexual contact, whereas in the same clinic during the last ten or fifteen years I have been treating that number or more each week.
Before the war, even heterosexual males were shy about admitting their sexual activities, and at first often blamed their trouble on accidental infection from a lavatory seat or some such source, only giving the true history when they had gained the doctor’s confidence. Nowadays, heterosexual patients almost always admit to sexual intercourse at once, and similarly in recent years homosexuals have been more inclined to give an immediate true history to an understanding and sympathetic physician, but even now some of them are, not unnaturally, cautious at first.
For all practical purposes there are three common venereal diseases in this country, and they affect both homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. They are syphilis, gonorrhoea, and non-gonnococcal urethritis. Syphilis is caused by a minute parasitic organism called a spirochete, which enters through a very small abrasion in the ano-genital region and very rapidly, in a matter of hours, spreads throughout the whole body. This disease can be passed to another person by the semen, the saliva, or by contact with a syphilitic sore. The first sign is a papule or raised red spot appearing at the site of contact nine to ninety days afterwards and rapidly becoming a comparatively painless sore or ulcer. In the male homosexual this is usually on the penis or anus, and is often accompanied by an enlarged gland in the groin. This sore, which is called the ‘primary sore’ or chancre, is usually obvious when on the penis, but if it is an anal sore it may be inside the anal passage, when it may not be noticed or is perhaps mistaken for a pile or fissure.
After about two or three months the infected patient, if untreated, develops a generalised and usually non-irritating rash, more or less painless ulceration of the mouth and ano-genital region, and enlarged lymphatic glands. This ‘secondary’ stage lasts several months, the external signs eventually clearing up without treatment, but the spirochetes continue to attack the body internally and after many years serious and irreversible damage to the arterial and nervous system will occur. Proper treatment with Penicillin or similar drugs in the primary and secondary stages will eliminate the disease entirely and prevent permanent damage.
The diagnosis of the disease is usually made by finding the spirochetes (i.e. causal germs) in the sore, or by a positive blood test which develops about six weeks after infection. The infected person is dangerous to others from the moment he is infected. Thus a promiscuous person may spread the infection to many others during the incubation period before any signs of disease appear in him.
It was my experience since the war years that syphilis has been more common among homosexuals than heterosexuals, and now probably more than half the cases treated are found to have contracted the disease homosexually. There seems to be no clear season for this. Promiscuity itself is not the only cause, because both groups of people seem to be equal in this respect. A promiscuous passive homosexual would be well advised to have regular blood tests for syphilis every few months, in case of hidden infection.
Gonorrhoea is a disease of the mucous membrane lining the penile urethra (water pipe) or the rectum and is caused by a germ which usually infects the genital regions only. In the homosexual, urethral gonorrhoea almost always follows contact of the penis with the ano-genital region of an infected male. and appears two or three days or even weeks afterwards in the form of a greenish-yellow discharge. If untreated. this discharge will persist for months and lead to such complications as painful swollen testicles and severe arthritis. If treated in the early stages it can be cured completely and will leave no after-effect. Gonorrhoea of the rectum in the male can follow any peno-anal contact (not necessarily penetration) and may show itself by a discharge from the anus, irritation and soreness, but these symptoms may be so slight that it is not suspected until a subsequent sexual partner complains of having been infected. The rectal infection usually requires more treatment than the urethral, but responds equally well in the end (sic.).
Non-gonococcal urethritis may be described as a milder condition resembling gonorrhoea, but in which the causal germ is unknown. It responds more slowly to treatment and tends to relapse. It is seldom as severe as gonorrhoea, but by its persistence it has great nuisance value.
It is very uncommon for any of these diseases to be contracted accidentally. They almost always follow sexual contact and usually, in the homosexual, contact between the penis and anus. Syphilis and gonorrhoea occasionally follow oral contact, but men and women are seldom infected when mutual masturbation only has taken place. Of course, persons infected with venereal disease, whether they have acquired it homosexually or heterosexually, are in danger of infecting their sexual partners of either sex.
A person suspecting any of these diseases should consult his doctor at once, and will probably be referred for examination and treatment to a VD clinic or to a private specialist. If he does not wish to consult his general practitioner, he can go directly to a clinic or private specialist without introduction. Most venereologists nowadays are used to treating homosexuals, though some accept them less readily than others.
Patients of a VD clinic or private specialist can be confident that their cases will be dealt with in the strictest secrecy, and that information about them will under no circumstances be divulged to the police or anyone else. It is a National Health Service Regulation that “any information with respect to persons examined or treated for venereal diseases in a hospital shall be treated as confidential”.
It is in the interest of all homosexuals and heterosexuals to seek medical advice at once if they suspect that they may be infected, because venereal disease can be cured easily in the early stages, but little can be done about the much more serious later effects. A more tolerant attitude by the public to private homosexual acts between adults would be a great step towards the eradication of venereal disease from the whole community, since it would undoubtedly encourage more carriers of the disease to come forward for treatment.
Gay News does not necessarily agree with the moral attitudes evident in the above, but the medical advice seems sound. In future issues we will be printing our reactions to the treatments (medical and moral) that we received on visiting various VD clinics around the British Isles. Also in the next issue we will have the reactions of another doctor to the article here. AND we would like to near about your experiences whilst seeking treatment at a VD clinic – so write and tell us about it.