I recently was on a panel of experts discussing how to prevent HIV among transgender youth. Preventing HIV among transgender youth, especially transgender youth of color, remains a challenge for multiple reasons – racism, poverty, stigma, marginalization, and discrimination play a role in the HIV epidemic. A barrier to preventing HIV infections among transgender youth is a lack of knowledge on how to provide them with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care. Here are some tips and resources that can help you ensure that transgender youth are safe and healthy.
One of the challenges of obtaining a sexual history is asking the right questionsFor example, if you have a transgender male assigned female at birth, ask whether their partners produce sperm instead of asking about the sex of their partners. A transgender male’s partner may identify as female but is assigned male at birth and uses her penis during sex. Furthermore, a transgender male may be on testosterone, but he still can get pregnant. Asking how they use their organs is just as important. A transgender male who has condomless penile-vaginal sex with multiple partners is at a higher risk for HIV infection than is a transgender male who shares sex toys with his only partner.
Normalizing that you ask a comprehensive sexual history to all your patients regardless of gender identity may put the patient at ease. Many transgender people are reluctant to disclose their gender identity to their provider because they are afraid that the provider may fixate on their sexuality once they do. Stating that you ask sexual health questions to all your patients may prevent the transgender patient from feeling singled out.
Finally, you don’t have to ask a sexual history with every transgender patient, just as you wouldn’t for your cisgender patients. If a patient is complaining of a sprained ankle, a sexual history may not be helpful, compared with obtaining one when a patient comes in with pelvic pain. Many transgender patients avoid care because they are frequently asked about their sexual history or gender identity when these are not relevant to their chief complaint.
Here are some helpful questions to ask when taking a sexual history, according to the University of California, San Francisco, Transgender Care & Treatment Guidelines.1
- Are you having sex? How many sex partners have you had in the past year?
- Who are you having sex with? What types of sex are you having? What parts of your anatomy do you use for sex?
- How do you protect yourself from STIs?
- What STIs have you had in the past, if any? When were you last tested for STIs?
- Has your partner(s) ever been diagnosed with any STIs?
- Do you use alcohol or any drugs when you have sex?
- Do you exchange sex for money, drugs, or a place to stay?