I am a twenty-eight-year-old, HIV-negative, gay man, and, on December 26, 2013, I received a late Christmas present, a prescription for Truvada as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). Drawing inspiration from my partner of almost three years, Aaron Laxton [A&U, January 2013], whose video blog, “My HIV Journey,” has documented his life with HIV since Day 1 of his diagnosis, I decided this too was a journey worth documenting. That’s why I decided to start a blog of my own, “Let’s Talk About PrEP.” I wrote my first blog entry on my first day taking the medication. I determined that a record that began at the very beginning of the experience would be the best way to share with others my firsthand account of being on PrEP.
As I stated in my first blog entry, I have no medical training, and I am not an expert of any kind. I just want to share my experiences in order to spread the word about PrEP, and to give a voice to those of us who have chosen this path of protection. I use my first entry as a basic introduction to myself and as an introduction to PrEP. As a man in a serodiscordant relationship I feel it is a unique perspective that I offer but not a story that is just mine.
PrEP is a medication that is very expensive and must be taken on a daily basis. So, needless to say, this was not a choice I made lightly, but it seemed like an important choice for many reasons—control, intimacy, and peace of mind were all driving forces in my choice to take Truvada. When it comes to HIV prevention, it seems like those who are HIV-positive are the ones most vocal about the policies. While my partner is undetectable, and the likelihood of transmission is very low, I feel like I don’t hold many of the cards in my own protection from HIV. Even though I trust that my partner will take his meds and remain undetectable, I wanted to have some control in my protection, which did not necessarily require condom use.
Yes, condoms are effective, but they also stand in the way of intimacy, at least in my relationship. The risk of the condom breaking is always in our minds and it stands in the way of truly enjoying the experience. There is also the fact that my partner didn’t like using condoms; he didn’t like the way they felt and that in turn stood in the way of us having sex on a regular basis. And really it boiled down to the fact that regardless of how safe we were being, every three months, when I would go and get an HIV test, both of us were on pins and needles. PrEP takes away a lot of that anxiety.
The stigma that comes into play when you talk about taking PrEP and talk about bareback sex is a very prevalent thing in the community that I feel also needs to be addressed. There is always a fear of negative stigma that comes with the topic of HIV even when it comes to talking about protection from it. Which seems to me to be counterproductive. There is a campaign against PrEP that exists and is primarily driven by the stigma that comes with the idea of condomless sex that has been drilled into the minds of gay men for decades. No, PrEP is not for everyone. And that’s why it is important to talk with your physician in an honest manner, but to say it’s not a good option at all is ludicrous. Hopefully, through my experiences we may be able to start a dialogue that really reaches out and investigates the idea of intimacy without the stigma.
“Let’s Talk About PrEP” is not an attempt to gain notoriety for myself nor is it sponsored by Gilead, the makers of Truvada, in any way. It is, instead, my way of adding to the discourse about PrEP and a platform to spread the word about how important options are when it comes to HIV prevention. It also discusses the problems experienced with the drug and with the process. You can find “Let’s Talk About PrEP” by logging on to: http://letstalkaboutprep.blogspot.com.
Phil Gill lives in St. Louis with his partner Aaron and their beagle Oliver. He recently received his MFA in Directing from Lindenwood University and plans to use that to help train the future actors of the world. Phil has been taking Truvada as PrEP since December 2013 and continues to blog about his experience.