Changing the Message

Hey everyone, thanks once again for reading Let's Talk About PrEP. Thought I'd do a little check-in. Seems like it's been a while since I've written. Not too much on the home front to report. I got my prescription refilled, which worked a lot easier than I expected it to. Really, I didn't have to do anything. The medication was shipped to my doctor's office with no action required on my part. I have to say that it was an unexpected, pleasant surprise when I got a call saying my medication was in. Other than that, I'm still feeling great, and I'll be honest, my sex life is healthier and happier than I think it's ever been. It's amazing the great burden that is lifted once you know that protection is in place and the peace of mind that PrEP has brought to both my partner and me.

I have been reading a lot about PrEP lately. And it's brought a few things to mind and has also opened my eyes to something that seems counterintuitive to me as a human being -- the idea of stigma for protecting yourself. So, OK, I'll start with a personal story. A few months before I began taking Truvada, my boyfriend was asked to speak on a panel in LA in regards to PrEP. I, wanting to get out of St. Louis for a few days and in desperate need of a vacation, decided to join him. (OK. I guess I also went to support him, but don't tell him that. It will go straight to his head.) So, we get to the Hollywood Improv, which was pretty cool, and toward the very beginning of this panel discussion a simple question was asked of the audience, which consisted primarily of gay men: How many of you use a condom every single time you have sex? The response wasn't very surprising, a sparse raising of hands while a vast majority of the room looked around with their hands still firmly planted at their sides. With this information, the panel proceeded to discuss the merits of changing the message of what constitutes protection. I was dumbfounded when the leader of the AHF (AIDS Healthcare Foundation) continued to preach that the most effective tool for prevention was condom use and that should be the only message to the world. He would not accept the fact that there is a medication called Truvada that will provide people at high risk of infection with an alternative.

Fast forward to this week. I read a great article on HIV Plus Magazine's website about PrEP. It was written by Michael Lucas and made some really interesting points. You can find the article here. Then I got curious and started reading the comment section. This is where once again the stigma of using PrEP reared its ugly head. Comments such as "I wonder if there is a pill that would stimulate brain activity? Why on earth would you take medication that you don't need? Stupid. Irresponsible." Or "Gay men are not shouting from the rooftops about this potential game changer because it's both woefully toxic and ruinously expensive." These comments really seemed like an attack on those of us taking PrEP by uninformed people. But this is the culture that exists. Gay men have been told since HIV/AIDS became a prevalent factor in our community that condoms are the only way to protect themselves from becoming infected. Times have changed and it is time that our message changes as well. Luckily, I have not experienced the stigma that seems to exist. In fact, I have had a really positive response to my sharing my PrEP journey. What have your experiences been? As always, I'd love any feedback or questions you might have. Thanks again for reading!

[Editor's note: This blog was originally written on Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, Phil Gill's 36th day taking PrEP for HIV prevention.]