Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV is gaining popularity in Australia, but is it a licence to throw sexual caution to the wind? Jess Jones opens up about what taking the blue pill is like.
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A mild misunderstanding with a doctor recently led to me being asked about my viral load, despite the fact that I’m HIV-negative.
The doc had no idea that Truvada was used for HIV prevention, and I had no idea it was used for treatment.
More and more queer guys are getting on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), though. Every morning I get up and have my ritual coffee, multivitamin, and little blue pill, and I’m far from alone.
Everyone seems to feel differently about what being on PrEP means.
Some guys consider it code for going bareback all the time. Others are still stringent with condoms and think of it as a backup.
I’m somewhere in between, and I get a lot of peace of mind out of knowing that I have that protection if I’m not as careful as I perhaps should be.
I have noticed that few people seem all that worried about other STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea. I’ve seen it among straight folks too—condoms seem to have fallen out of fashion with them.
HIV has for the last few decades been The Big One that queer men worry about. I suppose for straight people the big worry is pregnancy, which makes PrEP a little bit like our contraceptive pill.
I’ve even heard of guys on PrEP being slut shamed, just like when women first took up oral contraception.
More than one guy has told me they consider PrEP a menace that renders careless promiscuous men, with antiviral pills making them feel invincible, little more than vectors of other diseases.
If anything, having been on PrEP for the last year, I’ve probably been more attentive to my sexual health than before.
The trial that allows me to access the medication requires me to have HIV and STI tests a little more frequently than I was, and the whole thing has put my sexual health into the front of my mind, so I’m more likely to exercise caution and use condoms with new partners.
I’m excited that there’s now so much choice in how we can manage HIV transmission risk.
As well as condoms and PrEP, the message of ‘undetectable equals untransmissible’ is starting to gain some traction.
When I was in school in the nineties, it was drilled into us that you use a condom every time or you’ll get HIV.
The idea that there could be complementary or alternative ways to manage that risk is so new that I think people are still getting their heads around it.
I say PrEP is fantastic, not least because it shifts the onus for HIV prevention onto negative people.
Having negative folks take on that responsibility might also help to change some of the stigma, which continues to be one of the biggest factors affecting wellbeing for people living with HIV.
This World AIDS Day, if you’re not living with HIV, it’s a great time to think about what you do to keep yourself safe from transmission. Maybe PrEP is for you. But also think about how you treat other people.
As LGBTI folks, we’re already marginalised enough, without being cruel to each other about HIV or PrEP. Let’s all try to become a little more educated and kinder.