A New Approach to HIV Prevention: Ready for PrEP?

two men chattingIt is important to understand what PrEP—the new buzzword around the LGBT community—is and what it is not. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a set of guidelines that outline when and where PrEP can be useful for sexually active people. Some readers may be unfamiliar with this conversation, however, so let’s start at the beginning.

First, what is PrEP?

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. The focus of this regimen is taking one pill (currently Truvada) per day as a means to prevent HIV infection from taking hold if you are exposed to the virus. When taken as recommended, PrEP can provide protection against HIV infection and is even more effective when combined with condom usage and other prevention tools.

With all the information available, you may be wondering if PrEP is right for you. For each individual this is a personal choice, but in their guidelines the CDC recommends PrEP for individuals who are in a sero-convergent relationship (one partner is positive, the other negative), HIV-negative people who are not in mutually monogamous relationships, intravenous drug users, and anyone who chooses not to use condoms on a regular basis during sex. These recommendations apply to homosexual and heterosexual people.

Current studies support the belief that PrEP is safe and has few side effects. The ones noticed by most people include upset stomach, loss of appetite, and sometimes a mild headache. No serious side effects were reported or observed in the studies, but if you choose to start PrEP, it is important that you work closely with your health care provider.

It is also important to note that PrEP is most effective when the dosage is taken daily as directed. Effectiveness declines dramatically if a daily regimen is not adhered to. If you choose to start PrEP, it is important to get an HIV test first to make sure that you are negative and to continue getting regular tests to make sure that you do not sero-convert.

To go on PrEP or not is a very personal decision, and you may find yourself confused and concerned about all of the information out there. If you are considering PrEP, it is important to gather as much information as possible and to work closely with a doctor who is knowledgeable about the latest information on this form of prevention.

Just like condom usage or other safe-sex practices, to use PrEP or not is up to you. You know your personal sexual practices and interactions, and it is important to honestly evaluate lifestyle choices to see if this is a viable tool for you. Other important prevention tools to have in your arsenal are to maintain a healthy approach to self-care, get tested regularly, and be willing to set boundaries when it comes to sex.

Knowing what you are willing and excited to do before the moment arises can help you make wiser choices in the heat of the moment. Is condom-less sex a choice for you? What are the risks of oral sex, and what choices will you make about your limits? Understanding what your personal boundaries are will give you the freedom to enjoy sex while maintaining your sense of personal safety.

One of the most effective things you can do to help prevent HIV infection is to be willing to talk openly to your potential sex partner about your status, his or her status, and the risks you are both wiling to take sexually. Communicating openly about your needs and desires can be sexy and also make the moment of sexual connection that much more personal to you and your partner or partners.

Taking personal responsibility for your sexual health can take some of the stress out of sex. As you become more informed about the myriad tools available to you, you can make more informed choices.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by John Sovec, LMFT, therapist in Pasadena, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • ClaudiA

    ClaudiA

    June 5th, 2014 at 3:18 PM

    I wouldn’t go so far as to have condomless sex with a new partner, but the prep program seems like it is a good idea for those who could be engaging in sexual relations with partners who may not be as monogamous at some time in their lives as we would have wanted them to be. Whatever we can all do to protect our physical and sexual health is understandable and this seems like it is just one more way to make all of us safer, especially when we know that there is the posibility that we could be with a partner who have been exposed to HIV.

  • Maysi

    Maysi

    June 6th, 2014 at 4:13 AM

    I am all for prevention, that’s a good thing. But are we even teaching abstinence anymore or have most people given up on that because they think that basically no one was listening to that message anyway?

  • rosanna

    rosanna

    June 6th, 2014 at 8:40 PM

    Why wouldn’t this be a good approach for anyone who is still sexually active and who has not yet settled down? I don’t think that this is a license to go out and engage in risky behavior, but I do think that it is a way to keep yourself even safer in these situations than has ever been possible before. You can always use a little more protection and this isn’t the kind that will feel invasive or that someone could say is taking away from the experience in the way that say a condom could. You take it every day and still maintain other safe practices, and I think that it is good to have even more hope for having even safer sex than what has ever before been possible.
    I think that eventually all of us want to settle down but you also want to be able to have fun without so many worries while you are looking for Ms Right. This could be a better way to do that. It won’t be 100% but on top of other forms of protection it could be an added security that could help both of you feel even more comfortable with your choices.

  • Garrett

    Garrett

    June 7th, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    Is this something that is available now? Because i have never even heard of this until reading about it here.

  • hector A

    hector A

    June 9th, 2014 at 4:36 AM

    This is going to give people a feeling of invincibility, like they can’t be touched by HIV if they take this medication and that is not the truth at all. I would much rather still be telling people to practice safe sex instead of always popping a pill and thinking that this will be a safety net for them. It is not designed as such and yet there are thoose who will treat it that way.

  • Jayna

    Jayna

    June 11th, 2014 at 4:23 AM

    @ hector- I don’t think that this will give people the sense that they can go out and do anything that they want to now, those times of sexual freedom like that are far from over

    What it can give them though is added protection against a disease that can take away so much from so many and has for years now without any real halt in the progression. I think that this is something that is a good thing even if you don’t think that it is the right message to be sending across the board.

    I think that what is great is that there are all kinds of options for prevention available to us and you have to be educated enough to choose the one that is going to work best for you and your lifestayle.

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