In the third of the five-part Truvada Diaries series, Martijn Tulp starts talking to men on dating apps about being on PrEP. The response is mixed.
The Truvada Diaries: Part 3 was originally published in the February 2017 Issue of GCN (Issue 326) which is available to read here.
Now that I’ve been on PrEP for a few months, I try bringing it up carefully when I’m chatting with other guys on dating apps. Not because I want to talk them into having condomless sex with me, but because I’m genuinely curious whether people know what it is.
I’ve learnt that while a lot of people have heard of the word ‘PrEP’, they falsely think it’s medication you take when you’re already HIV positive. Other guys seem to have it confused with PEP, a treatment you can take right after you’ve potentially been exposed to HIV. And of course there are guys who are just generally skeptical.
I often get asked how well PrEP works. I explain that it’s effective, as long as you take it as prescribed – in my case it’s one pill a day, with a small meal or snack. I trust PrEP to prevent becoming infected with HIV, the way I trust a plane I’m on won’t crash, or the way I trust I won’t get hit by a drunk driver when I’m riding my bike; there is no 100 percent guarantee, but chances are so slim, they’re negligable.
And as I’m writing this, I realise it’s probably time for me to stop participating in any kind of financial lottery, because it’s extremely unlikely I will ever win those millions. I did win €10 recently, but I’m not quite sure how to translate that to this comparison. Moving on.
The Truvada Diaries – Other STIs
There are guys who have been quick to tell me PrEP doesn’t prevent transmission of other STIs. True, but do they always have oral sex with a condom?
That seems like a rather good way to get an STI as well. I never have oral sex with a condom, so I feel the risk of STIs is there anyway, regardless of whether I’d start experimenting with condomless anal sex.
And then there’s the argument, usually made by straight people, but quite often by members of our own community too: ‘Gays should just stick to using condoms, that will save us all a lot of money’. And it’s true, PrEP isn’t cheap. If I were to pay for my PrEP out of my own pocket it would cost around €800 a month.
The Truvada Diaries – Just Use Condoms
However, if telling everyone to ‘just stick to using condoms’ would be 100 percent effective, HIV would have been practically non-existent for decades.
We’ve known since 1987 that using a condom can prevent the transmission of HIV. It’s not 100 percent secure protection, but still. Each year thousands of new HIV infections occur. So the safe sex campaigns may work, but not enough.
The same goes for the campaigns that encourage people to get tested regularly; a large percentage of new HIV infections in Ireland are caused by people who don’t know their own HIV status.
The Truvada Diaries – The Pill
“If those gays feel they need to have sex without condoms, that’s their business, but the tax-payer shouldn’t be paying for it!” Another good story. What about all those women taking contraception pills? Are we labeling them as promiscuous sluts who are raising STI rates and costing the tax-payer lots of money?
Perhaps in the beginning, when contraception was first introduced, we did, but we managed to overcome that.
The only difference is that contraception has become a lot more affordable than PrEP, but that doesn’t mean there is no need or necessity for PrEP to become accessible.
The Truvada Diaries – HIV Rates Drop
In the UK several clinics have already reported drops in new HIV diagnoses, which is partly being attributed to certain people ordering PrEP online.
Imagine how low the numbers could have been if PrEP had been generally available there. Imagine how low the numbers in other countries could be.
In the meantime, I’ll just keep having these conversations online, hoping that our government will soon get off their lazy asses and decide to make PrEP available.