2020 has been a challenging year. But as tough as the days have been, its been heartening to see people come together doing what they can to keep each other safe.

For our communities, keeping each other safe is something we have done for many years. Since the early days of the AIDS crisis, gay and bisexual men have been adapting their behaviours to incorporate strategies that protect their health and the broader community. 

As restrictions ease and life returns to a new COVID normal, its time we resume the practices that have safeguarded our sexual heath. This means getting tested regularly for HIV and, if you were on PrEP, taking it as prescribed.

We know that many gay men listened to public health orders during the pandemic and took responsible steps to protect themselves. For most, this meant following specific advice regarding physical distancing and refraining from casual sex. As such, many took a pause from using PrEP and many also had a break from their HIV and STI testing routine.

With the nights getting warmer and the party season drawing nearer, dont wait until you start hooking up again before getting your sexual health routine on track. 

 The first step is to know your HIV status. Even if youve had a break from casual sex for a while, its always good to get tested and to know. Having a sexual health screen is important because, generally, HIV and STIs are transmitted by people who dont know they have it. The sooner you know, the sooner you can take steps to keep yourself healthy and avoid passing it on.

For those who test positive for HIV, early treatment not only has great health benefits but can also reduce HIV in the blood to undetectable levels, meaning you cant transmit it to others.

If you took a break from PrEP, its important to get back on it safely. So however, PrEP worked for you whether it was a daily regimen or on-demand speak to your PrEP prescriber before you have sex again. This may also mean getting a new script filled. 

Of course, as well as looking after your sexual health, its also important to be vigilant about COVID-19. The coronavirus is still here and, until there is a vaccine, it is here to stay. So when hooking up, always practise good hygiene, make sure you have your sexual partners contact details and dont hook up if you are feeling unwell or have any known symptoms. Theres always next time.

We know our communities are responsible when it comes to protecting their sexual health. This includes using a range of HIV prevention methods like PrEP, condoms or Undetectable Viral Load, and getting tested regularly. As summer approaches, lets continue to keep looking after our health and the health of our partners.

For more information about PrEP and HIV testing, go to endinghiv.org.au

Matthew Vaughan is ACONs Acting Director for HIV & Sexual Health.

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