Talking about sex, sexual health, sexual history, and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can be intimidating. The stigma that still exists when it comes to HIV and sexual health sometimes holds people back from making the decision to speak with a medical provider and explore options about a life on PrEP that might prevent HIV or other STIs.
Also, there isn’t much public discourse from people who are on PrEP. We hope to help ease worries that arise about starting a new medication by highlighting these voices.
Let’s change that! Anthony, a provider at Q Care Plus, takes PrEP. Here are some things you should know:
Let’s Get Into It!
Q: What helped you make the decision to get on PrEP?
A: The decision to get on PrEP came without hesitation. I grew up during the 80’s when so many people were dying of HIV/AIDS. The infection was not well understood and there were no effective treatments for it. As a young gay male, I was terrified of having sex.
Every time I had a sexual encounter, I would immediately go seek out an HIV test. I remember waiting anxiously during the week it took for results to be delivered, always swearing off sex during that wait. The fear of being delivered a positive result was terrifying.
So, when I heard that there was a daily pill that effectively stopped the transmission of HIV, I knew I wanted it.
Q: What were you worried/anxious about before getting on PrEP? Did those worries come to fruition?
A: The thing I was most anxious about when starting PrEP was asking my provider for it. In 2012, the FDA approved the use of Truvada for HIV exposure prophylaxis, in combination with safe sex practices, to reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV infections in at-risk adults.
This was exactly one year after the military repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I joined the military in 2007, and I’m still active duty.
2011 was a momentous year for me in the military, as I was finally able to live my authentic life. While the demise of DADT was momentous in my life, it wasn’t so well received by other service members, to include other healthcare providers.
So, a year later, when PrEP was approved, I was anxious about asking my active duty primary care provider for the medication. That anxiety was quelled when my very holistic healthcare provider applauded my decision to get on PrEP. They immediately started me on the therapy while consulting the Air Force’s infectious disease specialist to make sure he was doing it right.
Q: Have you ever experienced side effects on PrEP? If so, how long did they last?
A: I was lucky in that I never had any side effects when starting PrEP. However, any time you start a new medication, you run the risk of side effects while your body adjusts to something new. Those who do experience PrEP side effects just need to wait a week (30 days at most) while their body gets used to a new medication. The side effects, if they experience any at all, are mostly mild and can include stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea, or abdominal discomfort.
Q: How has your life changed (if at all) since starting PrEP?
A: My life has changed since I started PrEP. I no longer have crippling anxiety after sexual encounters. Plus, I can enjoy sex knowing that I have 99% protection against contracting HIV.
Also, I feel good knowing that I will have labs and STI screenings every three months as part of my PrEP therapy. I feel responsible about my sexual health now and I feel good about knowing I’ve taken a stop toward ending the HIV epidemic.
Q: What advice would you give to people who are wanting to ask sexual partners about THEIR status?
A: Nobody will advocate for your sexual health more than YOU. Asking a partner about their status can feel invasive and even awkward. Misinformation and stigma can make this conversation uncomfortable but it’s all about respecting yourself and your sexual partner.
Anytime I’ve been asked about my status, I felt relieved to know that my partner cared as much as about his sexual health as I did about mine. Having that conversation up front immediately makes you comfortable with that person.
Q: And what is your advice when it comes to letting people know you’re on PrEP?
A: Letting people know that you’re taking PrEP shows your partner you’ve taken responsibility for your sexual health and overall well being. It communicates that you’ve made a conscious decision to maintain a healthy sexual lifestyle and that’s very sexy.
Q: What’s something that you would tell someone who is worried about getting on PrEP?
A: If you’re worried about getting on PrEP, ask someone you know about their experience. Whether it’s recommendations about what restaurants to eat at, which hotel to stay in, or which movies to watch, we always ask for reviews from people who have eaten there, stayed there, or watched that.
Why not ask someone who’s on PrEP for their honest and candid reviews. Chances are, you know someone who’s taking PrEP and can have an honest conversation about their experiences with it.
Q: Do you think your PrEP journey would have been different if you had had a resource like Q Care Plus?
A: My experience with PrEP would have been MUCH different if I had a service like Q Care Plus. My fears/trepidations about making an appointment with a doctor to discuss PrEP would have been erased if I could have done it from the privacy and anonymity of my home.
Starting a medication that promotes sexual health and well-being can be nerve wracking since it’s such a traditionally uncomfortable topic to discuss. I recognize that patients have a difficult time talking about sex with their providers. Conversely, many providers are just as uncomfortable talking about sex with their patients.
But the providers at Q Care Plus specialize in sexual health and talking about sex; it’s what they do every single day. There are no topics that are taboo or uncomfortable and patients have the liberty to speak about their sexual health without holding anything back.
To have a completely honest conversation with your provider about sex, without fear of stigma or judgement, is liberating, healthy, and responsible.