01/11/2015 17:30 GMT | Updated 01/11/2016 05:12 GMT

Oh, To Be a Young Gay Man Again? Errm, No Thanks, It's Harder Than Ever


HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.

I can't quite believe I'm saying this but next year marks my 25th anniversary as an out and proud gay man. Of course, even if I didn't know it yet, I was a raging homo the minute I entered this world, but it'll be a quarter of a century (!) since I sat my mum down to explain why I'd been such a bastard to live with of late.

It feels like yesterday, but a lot has happened in the last two and a half decades that has made me thankful that I'm not 19 again, despite the perception that things are now a lot easier for young gay men and women.

Of course, there has been huge progress, not only in equal rights legislation but also visibility and acceptance of the LGBT community. Being gay is, quite rightly, about as interesting and defining as what you do for a living these days but, at the risk of sounding like an old (gay) fart, I can't help but think that the new generation of young gay people have it a lot harder these days, particularly when it comes to their own identity.

More than ever, men, not just gay men, are force-fed an 'ideal'. We're meant to have a certain body type, wear certain clothes, have a certain type of sex... the list goes on, so no wonder it takes so much time to forge our own identity when there is so much noise distracting us from listening to our gut instincts.

I blame technology.

For young gay men in particular, with the proliferation of social media and the fact we're just so connected these days, there are worrying signs that a large proportion are quickly falling into dangerous lifestyles before they've had time to figure out who they really are.

Back in 1990, the only people who owned a mobile phone were suited and booted city workers who thought they were the dog's bollocks as they strutted around shouting into something not much smaller than a public phone box, Dom Joly stylee. Oh, how we laughed.

These days, thanks to smartphones, much of the gay scene and the whole concept of going to a bar, smiling at a stranger, having a conversation/flirt is fast becoming a thing of the past, which is a shame, as this sort of social life and range of interaction contributed to who I am, as a gay man.

Nowadays, gay bars and clubs are closing left, right and centre as guys turn to the likes of Grindr or online porn for instant gratification.

Nowt wrong with getting your end away of course but, for many young gay men, the pressure to have sex because, well, it's everywhere these days, can be damaging.

Don't believe me? HIV is increasing in 15-24 year-old gay men. Fact. That statistic alone proves we are failing young gay men.

So what can we do? Well, there's a lot being done, but better sex education is essential.

According to The Terrence Higgins Trust, if taught properly, sex and relationships education (SRE) has been shown to "delay sexual activity, reduce the number of people students have sex with and increase use of condoms and other contraceptives".

And that's got to be a good thing for someone's self worth, right?

Not that my sex education was any better, but then I was exposed to the horrors of AIDS in the 1980s, whether it was those tombstone TV ads or the disgusting way Freddie Mercury was splashed all over the front page of The Sun just days before he died, following his secret diagnosis a few years before.

In some ways, my 19-year-old self isn't so different to the 21st Century equivalent, but my journey of how I came to be the 43-year-old man I am today had fewer obstacles in the road.

I'm not sure who I'd be, or if I'd even be here, if that hadn't been the case.

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