Prevention, PrEP, the whole damn thing — it all boils down to the human impulse to have sex without condoms. Thirty years into an epidemic, that’s still hard to talk about in public without hysteria and morality.
by anon, San Franciso
[name withheld for now]
I have been taking Truvada for two months.
I’m 39, HIV-negative, and have been sexually active with men since I was 13 years old. So that’s 26 years of condoms, anxiety about HIV and navigating safety with several thousand partners. I’ve been a sex worker for 14 years and in my free time, a sexual enthusiast who loves bathhouses, online hookups and sex clubs. I’m versatile and attracted to a range of men.
In other words, I’m a good candidate for PrEP.
I’ve remained HIV negative with a combination of fear, will power, good boy training, strategic partner selection and three rounds of post-exposure medication.
Over the years, I’ve realized that most of the prevention messages were wrong: that HIV is not orally transmitted, that HIV is much harder to get for tops, that by and large it’s a fragile virus. These are all things that HIV counselors and prevention campaigns lied to me and my community about by using fear, shaming and millions of dollars. In order to get an HIV test, I would have to go to the principal’s office and take a pop quiz about the five transmissible body fluids and get a finger wagging for the unprotected sex I’d had, which I grossly underestimated in our counseling session.
Fear, for most people, is a short-term deterrent. It’s like crack and it wears off.
HIV prevention, like most American entities, has failed to adopt tactics that are sustainable in the long term to keep people uninfected.
As I learned the truth about HIV (by becoming an HIV counselor myself and working with young street-based injectors) I started taking more risks myself. At a certain point, I felt like my risk tolerance had the potential to get me infected. So I spent a lot of time considering PrEP. I spoke to doctors, friends working at all levels of prevention and poz men on Truvada. I read up on it and finally decided to try it.
I offer these caveats because contrary to government and mental health industry perceptions, I am not suicidal and if there is a problem with my self-esteem, it’s that I have too much of it.
My doctor is a gay man in the Castro who has a lot of patients on PrEP. He treated me with respect, as if my personal research could be helpful to him.
The sex I’ve had in the last two months has been some of the most spiritual, connected and passionate sex I’ve ever had. The persistent anxiety I’ve lived with for so many years is gone.
I have not been using condoms as a top or bottom and have been playing mostly with undetectable HIV positive men. Ironically, undetectable men have emerged as the safest group of people for me to play with. HIV negative men, especially versatile ones, stand the chance of having newly seroconverted with high viral loads. So I’m thoughtful about it. I’m ruling out anyone who does crystal meth. Barebacking and online hookup websites, oft-demonized, are excellent for starting conversations about health and serostatus because people include status and sexual practices in their profile.
Some of you may want to scream BUT PEOPLE LIE! Sure. Sure they do.