2020 has been a challenging year. But as tough as the days have been, it’s 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’, it’s 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, don’t wait until you start hooking up again before getting your sexual health routine on track.
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 can’t transmit it to others.
If you took a break from PrEP, it’s 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, it’s 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 partner’s contact details and don’t hook up if you are feeling unwell or have any known symptoms. There’s 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, let’s 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 ACON’s Acting Director for HIV & Sexual Health.