It's been over one year since I have started taking the FDA approved pill called Truvada for HIV prevention. The only sanctioned medicine (aka PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis) that prevents HIV infection. Not even condoms are approved by the FDA to prevent HIV.
Thoughts so far?
I have not been infected or diagnosed with HIV. I take cyclical STI exams with my doctor. Because of my paranoia I go every month and a half.
When I started to accept that I liked men at 16, I also acquired a deep sense of fear over HIV. Every sexual interaction since then was meet with panic induced condom inspections after intercourse. I was "safe" 100% of the time. Condom usage if done correctly is between 70-97% effective in preventing infection. Yet, those numbers feed into my anxiety. I'd be terrified about the previous night's hookup and run to my local HIV testing center when class was over.
Men who were HIV positive, I'd shun and turn away. My fear was so deep I couldn't fathom even kissing them without thinking about the terrorist virus within their bodies.
I was scared of them, they were like modern day lepers to me. I didn't want to become them, but my thoughts haunted me, whispering "not positive yet."
Into my junior year of college, a guy I dated cheated on me. I'd have condom-less sex with men I grew to trust and were recently tested. One night in his dorm he admitted he had been sleeping bareback with his ex while we were dating. I broke down, locked myself in the bathroom and pictured a soon to be "death sentence" announced by a drop of blood.
I called the emergency line at my school's mental help hotline. I was having an anxiety attack locked up in a dorm bathroom. The man on the line managed to calm me down and told me to explain the situation to my doctor the next morning. What had passed had unfortunatly passed.
The next day I told my doctor about the situation and collected samples of my bodily fluids. He also told me about PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), a course of HIV meds taken for a month after a potential exposure that might prevent me from acquiring HIV if taken within a 72 hour window period after exposure. He gave me the prescription and sent me away. My results came back negative.
The next two years I took PEP three times. Once, with a stranger where a condom broke. Twice with an ex I dated at the time. Interestingly enough my intimacy issues only seemed to enflame my paranoia. I enjoyed sex without condoms, but the thought of HIV always deterred me and I let guilt wash over me, for wanting pleasure, but most importantly intimacy.
So I continued educating myself about HIV. Read studies about this new prevention strategy called PrEP. If there was a post-exposure medication, what about pre-exposure? I discussed it with my doctor. He had no idea what it was and I had to walk him through it. How odd he know so little, considering I was being treated at UCLA. Luckily he never sex shamed me and I felt so open talking to him about these health issues. After much thought he managed to get it approved for me considering the amount of accidents I had reported to him.
The perfect time too, since I had just broken up with an unrequited lover. My behavior would be more promiscuous. A heartbroken man out on the streets drinking his problems away, trying to find validation in the embraces of the blurred men of the night.
For nearly a month I had bowel issues. Not a great start, but it did help quell anxiety. If taken every day there was a very high chance (upwards of 90%) I would not be infected with HIV, and that was if the other person was Positive and had a detectable viral load. If they were undetectable the chances were less than one percent. So I dated a man who was HIV positive, undetectable. We had sex, without condoms, and it was terrifying. He assured me I would be okay, he was very well acquainted with the drug and knew members of the community who were experts on the matter.
It was hard to be intimate with him. I was still mortified, but something funny happened.
I began to see him less as a bogey man, and more of a human being. He had HIV, but he was perfectly healthy. Just like me, he took one pill a day. Essentially I was living his life, but taking a pill to prevent the virus from attaching itself to me. While he was taking it to keep viral loads levels low. Every morning before work, we would both take a pill and head off.
I still deal with my fear of HIV, but I don't see it as a death sentence anymore. I've become more open to the idea of dating HIV-positive men. From time to time I still cringe at the idea the pill might be a farce, a conspiracy to infect gay men with false hope. People on hookup apps call me a Truvada whore whenever I put I am on PrEP. Oftentimes, they are HIV+ themselves.
There lies the root of the problem, shame. People in the LGBTQ community have issues with the morality of the pill. Just as the right has issues with birth control and the HPV vaccine. It will only promote more whoredom they say. Men who said they were not at risk, contracted it, now spout the "condoms only" argument.
Deep down I was ashamed of pleasure. The pleasure of another man carnally and intimately.
Yet, I was still going about my business sleeping around. The fear of HIV lies in the fear of another stigma, a "deserved" stigma by the larger sect of society on queer men. The zeitgeist being a just punishment for their immoral behavior. It was only a matter of when. That's where my fear manifested from. I was ashamed of being gay and feared I deserved to contract HIV and die.
But here I am taking PrEP on a daily basis. I will admit I have become more open to sex without condoms. My fears still linger and I am trying to work through them. I have been diagnosed with treatable STIs. When I was using condoms consistently that was never the case. But I am HIV free. Gonorrhea and Chlamydia are treatable, and you can still get them even if you use condoms for anal sex, most people forget you need to use condoms for oral sex.
Hopefully in my lifetime there will be a vaccine for HIV. Until then this is the next best thing, a once a day pill. Even if you use condoms all the time, there will be slip ups, God knows I never planned for one. You fall for someone and trust them and have unprotected sex. Boom, you're infected. That is how my ex who is HIV+ contracted it. Statistically most HIV infections occur from people you know and trust.
Humans are emotional animals, they seek pleasure and sometimes in the heat of the moment we don't make intelligent decisions. Taking PreP has not only prevented me from getting an infection, but it has humanized those who do have it.
I doubt I would ever have had sex or be in a relationship with an HIV+ man before PrEP. It's actually safer, considering men who say they are negative oftentimes don't know their status and their viral levels are dangerously high. While HIV+ men who know their status and are on treatment and undergo constant health screenings to ensure they have undetectable levels.
You always roll the dice when you hook up or date someone. If someone infected you one day, and the next week you went to the doctor for a check up it would not show up in your results.
So go and get yourself checked, ask about PrEP and see if it's right for you. Or at the very least have a PEP kit available in case an accident occurs. The morality this nation propagates on sex has led to health epidemics, unwanted pregnancies, and the discrimination of certain groups of people. The LGBTQ community needs to overcome the traumas of the past to heal and move past the stigma of HIV. The HIV rate has held steady for the last decade. Condoms and abstinence alone won't help turn the tide, it's time to kill the fear, because that is what is truly keeping us from being ourselves and living our lives.