Truvada: Separating Fact From Fiction
I happen to have an in-depth, first-hand wealth of knowledge on the subject of HIV and AIDS. I never went to medical school or took any formal classes on the disease, but I consider myself an expert on the subject nonetheless. I was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 19 back in April 1993. In just a few more months, I will be observing the 25th anniversary of that chilling experience with the respect and appreciation such a long history of survival deserves.
But there’s something about which I will still be utterly confused — how the existence of a proven effective preventative medication like Truvada (used as PrEP), which has been shown to be nearly 100% effective at preventing seroconversion in highly adherent HIV-negative users, can be receiving the kind of negative propaganda and fear mongering I’ve seen happening in the last couple of years since the FDA approved its use in the United States in 2012.
There’s a pill. It is available to everyone with or without medical insurance. It literally stops HIV from infecting people. And there are those who refuse to take it out of some misguided, misinformed sense of . . . what? Propriety? Fear? Superiority? I’m at a loss.
Some of the testimonials I’ve read or watched in various vlogs and on social media are simply wrong. There are young men who, much like climate change deniers, cite unreliable sources and claim that the science is still too flimsy to support the claim that PrEP can be trusted to protect against HIV infection. Others claim that because Truvada only works against HIV, they may as well just use condoms, since other STI’s are on the rise. Still others have simply shunned PrEP without any good reason whatsoever, choosing merely to point their fingers at those who use the medication and slut shame them for being promiscuous “Truvada Whores“.
Whatever the reason, I would like to provide some insight from the perspective of an HIV-positive man who has lived his entire adult life fighting the virus and the stigma that accompanies it. Since my diagnosis, I’ve only managed a handful of serious relationships, none of which lasted more than a couple of years, and all of which were with serodiscordant partners who remained HIV-negative throughout. I’ve been single since June of 2003. That’s right – 14 years of self-imposed bachelorhood all because I bought into the negative hype that said I was damaged goods, unfit to circulate in the same sexual circles as my “DDF” and “Clean” counterparts in the community.
On the rare occasions that I did succumb to the need for physical contact, I was never able to let go of my fear of passing this virus on to my casual partners, regardless of the type of protection we used or the open dialogue we maintained before and during the act itself. I had developed a rigid mental block that manifested itself physically by way of completely stopping any chance of ejaculation. Needless to say, this became unbearable after a while. Ultimately, I sought out some behavioral therapy and am still working to undo all the unhealthy brainwashing that I inflicted on myself under the constant pressure of the stigma I encounter in every club, on every website or app, and in the comments of practically any article or video of gay interest online.
So when I hear gay and bisexual men shunning this potentially lifesaving drug and shaming anyone who is responsible and smart enough to have started taking it, I am consumed with a mixture of frustration, sadness, and rage. These ignorant, arrogant men enjoy a level of privilege that allows them to ignore the fact that the existence of PrEP takes some of the pressure off of people like me. It’s a way of taking personal responsibility for one’s own sexual health regardless of whether they choose to use it in conjunction with other methods of prevention. And it is pointless to pretend that gay and bisexual men are going to correctly use condoms 100% of the time without fail and without breakage. We’re men. Butt stuff happens! Man up and protect yourselves with every resource available to you.
Truvada is to HIV what the birth control pill is to pregnancy. Neither of them will protect against every sexually transmitted infection out there. But both PrEP and birth control can give the user a real sense of security, safety, and the freedom to enjoy sex with whomever, whenever, and however they choose. There’s no shame in that. What’s shameful is having access to this kind of prophylaxis and choosing not to use it, or worse, shaming others so much that they opt out of using it themselves. The question doesn’t have to be “Which one should I use?” It doesn’t have to be either/or! Use what you’re comfortable using, but don’t let your decision prevent others from making the choice that’s right for them. Start protecting yourselves and stop the stigma. #UsePrEP
Video: What Is PrEP? https://youtu.be/ueKrjO6rAyE