In this column, I’ve decided to address slut-shaming—trying to make someone feel bad for what is perceived as having “too much” sex or the “wrong” kind of sex. Individuals living with HIV have often been slut-shamed—according to some, we’re not even supposed to have any kind of sex!
Slut-shaming is wrong in any context, but it becomes nonsensical in an era of Treatment as Prevention. I have HIV and am, thanks to anti-HIV meds, undetectable, and, if you don’t live under a rock, you might have heard of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a prevention tool for negative individuals—both fall under Treatment as Prevention, using medications to stop the transmission of HIV. If you’re undetectable you have suppressed your viral load on antiretroviral medication and have long (or at least for six months) been undetectable, meaning there is a negligible, and some say nonexistent, risk of transmitting HIV, you and your partners may decide to not use condoms. If you are negative, you may decide to use PrEP as a form of HIV prevention, with or without a condom.
I was on a social media application (no, I’m not telling which one) where one of the statuses you could chose to support was “Treatment as Prevention” and I did. Some time later, I was approached by someone that had not-so-nice things to say to me because of my support of PrEP. I heard things like “You’re a slut; only a whore would condone raw sex; have fun at the clinic.”
After all of this negative, slut-shaming energy, I had to take a couple of deep breaths and turn it into something positive. So, I have decided that I would come up with a list for Treatment and Prevention supporters who often encounter slut-shaming in 2017. Why? Because slut shaming directly contributes to stigma. Being stigmatized can contribute to the lowering of self-esteem, which can also make people fearful to go on preventative treatment and to go on HIV medications if they have been infected with HIV. People need to have supportive networks, not stigmatizing ones, especially within their own demographic. The LGBT people and HIV community should be uplifting one another because we have enough people misunderstanding and hating us.
So, what can we do?
There is a block button. No matter what social media you’re on, it doesn’t give anyone the right to be an asshole. Just block them. There will always be someone who is going to find you attractive—why are you wasting time with someone that is not going to give you the love you want?
Unfriending is not unlawful. Look, millions of people are on Facebook and you don’t necessarily have to talk to them. There are PrEP discussion groups that you can be a part for support and, trust me, they’re in your corner.
Educate them: Yes, we must make sure that we leave space to educate those of us who judge everyone else’s sexual lives. Which gives room for a lot of assholes to teach. But, with that being said, I sometimes leave a link to a website to educate on PrEP and new, innovative prevention measures.
Slut-shame them right back: One of the biggest controversies for people wanting PrEP was being called sluts and whores because they were being open about looking for the love that they wanted. Usually people who have huge opinions on the sexual lives of others, have their own sexual proclivities that they don’t want to share with others. (No mentioning certain politicians here.)
Oh, I’m a whore—why do you give a fuck? I always ask people who judge my sexual appetites: “Do you want me sexually? If no, then fuck off….Next….” The real question is, why do they care?
So I’m a Truvada Whore?! No, seriously, I’m a Truvada Whore and I own it: There are people that own it, and that is okay. The term “Truvada Whore,” once meant to stigmatize, was reclaimed; it comes from a movement of empowerment. It may mean that “I’m HIV-negative but for my HIV prophylaxis I’m going on PrEP”; or “I’m HIV-positive and I would like my sexual partners to be open to or only use PrEP as a HIV prophylaxis.” Some people have a problem with being called a whore and that is fine, too. We all own parts of our sexual proclivities, but the important thing is we do not judge others for their own or by a standard we have no business putting on others.
Walk the fuck away. No, seriously, there is more than one out there. What I mean is that you have to have the empowerment in yourself to just walk away. Sometimes when approached by someone who only uses condoms, I give a compliment and say, “I never did mind about the little things.” Then look down in between their legs and walk away.
All you have to know is that it is their choice. Never mind about the insulting comment I just made in last tip; just say, “Okay thanks, but I’m looking for something different.” They don’t have to accept your stance, but they do have to respect it. PrEP is an acceptable form of HIV prophylaxis, but so is a condom. Your sex life is your own and so is theirs, so fuck ’em…or not.
Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Presently, he is working toward his doctorate in public health. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].