“Assume the Position, Elder”: How I Decided to Get a Hepatitis Vaccine

If you are, like me, a sexually active gay man, you are at risk of contracting hepatitis. But unlike the gamma shots of old, vaccines can now protect you for life from hepatitis A and B.
If you are, like me, a sexually active gay man, you are at risk of contracting hepatitis. But unlike the gamma shots of old, vaccines can now protect you for life from hepatitis A and B.

By David Christensen

February 2007

If you are my age and served a mission overseas, you may have memories of pulling down your pants in front of another elder (or even a sister!) and assuming the position to receive a shot of gamma globulin in the butt. In those days gamma globulin was the best protection science had against hepatitis and other infectious diseases prevalent in developing countries. During my mission, I pulled down my pants in front of other elders many times, but I also learned how to give the shots myself, which led to having other elders pull down their pants and assume the position in front of me.

If you are, like me, a sexually active gay man, you are at risk of contracting hepatitis. But unlike the gamma shots of old, vaccines can now protect you for life from hepatitis A and B. Despite how beneficial these vaccines can be, many gay men don’t know that they exist, nor do they know that it’s relatively easy to obtain them for free.

Hepatitis is a serious disease that can lead to life-long complications. Even though I am in a long-term monogamous relationship, I recently asked my doctor about hepatitis. She told me that she recommends every gay man, even those in a monogamous relationship, to get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B. So I called my local Health Department. I told them up front that I am a gay man, and I made an appointment to see a nurse.

I had once had an awkward experience at another Health Department office with a nurse who was shocked when I told her that I had sex with men only, so for this new appointment I didn’t know exactly what to expect. As it turned out, this nurse was very cool and immediately made me feel comfortable. The best surprise was that the state where I currently live has a program which covers the cost of the vaccine for high-risk groups—including men who have sex with men. And I didn’t even have to “assume the position:” Unlike the gamma shots of my missionary days, this shot was applied to my arm.

The vaccine I received is called Twinrix, and it’s a combination vaccine that protects you from hepatitis A and B. Twinrix is administered in three doses: the second dose comes one month after the first one, and the third dose six month later. This vaccine is extremely safe. In fact, young men and women preparing to go on a LDS mission are now advised to get their hepatitis A and B vaccinations even before turning in their papers.

If you are a sexually active gay man, please consider receiving this vaccination—not as a replacement for safe sexual practices, but as an additional protection against disease. Many states in the U.S. offer the vaccine either at a discount price or for free. Call the Health Department office in the county where you live. In some big cities, this vaccine is also available in gay and lesbian centers.

Twinrix can benefit every sexually active gay man—even monogamous couples—who engage in anal sex or in rimming. In fact, monogamous couples sometimes indulge in unprotected sex because they know their HIV status, yet many of those couples don’t know their hepatitis status. Just as with HIV, you can be infected with hepatitis without showing any symptoms.

The worst thing that you can do is see the hepatitis vaccine as a cure-all against Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). Twinrix will only protect you from hepatitis A and B. It will NOT protect you from HIV, herpes, hepatitis C, nor any other STD. If you rim someone without using a dental dam, even after being vaccinated for hepatitis, you can still catch gonorrhea, herpes, and condyloma. And even if you know for sure that your partner doesn’t carry those STDs, no matter how hygienic you and you partner are, through unprotected rimming you can still catch microscopic parasites and diarrhea-producing bacteria.

So that’s the story of how I got my hepatitis vaccine. If you are currently celibate, I hope you didn’t read this article as an invitation to become sexually active. My advice to you is: Get vaccinated, but do not rush into sex. Wait til the day when you have found that special someone with whom you will be spending the best 50 years of your life.