A new survey carried out by British charity HERO reveals men on PrEP often face negative comments and stigma.
Just over 750 men were surveyed and the results published in FS magazine. Thirty-five per cent of the respondents were on the medication. It’s taken by people to stop them acquiring HIV.
Of those taking the drug, 33% faced ‘a negative reaction because they are on PrEP.’
- 78% said they have heard people say ‘PrEP doesn’t prevent against other STIs’
- 48% said they have heard people say ‘People should just use condoms’
- 43% said they have heard people say taking the medication ‘means you’re a “slut”’
- 27% have heard people say that ‘PrEP is expensive and shouldn’t be given to gay men on the NHS’
- 10% said they have heard that ‘Taking PrEP means you don’t care about your health.’
PrEP is not widely available on the UK’s NHS state healthcare. The NHS is currently carrying out a trial as to its cost efficiency. Most of those on the medication in the UK are currently enrolled on the 10,000-person NHS trial or buying generic versions online from other countries.
Half of the men surveyed on PrEP said they were on the trial. Of those not on the drugs, 30% said they can’t get on the trial. A further 31% say they can’t afford them. More than nine out of ten questioned believe the medication should be free on the NHS.
‘Calling each other promiscuous does nothing to stop the spread of HIV’
‘We really need to stop slut shaming each other,’ says Ian Howley, Chief Executive of HERO – Health Equality and Rights Organisation.
‘Calling each other lazy, irresponsible or promiscuous does nothing to stop the spread of HIV. It only takes one sexual encounter for HIV and STIs to be passed on.
‘What’s not responsible about wanting to prevent HIV? One of the most common responses we hear at HERO is that gay and bisexual men on PrEP are not being responsible.
‘Those who are on PrEP are being responsible. They are stopping the spread of HIV within the gay and bisexual communities. We should be applauding them, not shaming them.’
Not protecting from other STIs
Howley continues, ‘We also hear all the time that PrEP does not prevent other STIs, but how many gay and bisexual men use condoms for oral sex? Gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia to name a few can all be transmitted through oral sex.
‘Of course, we need to do more to increase gay and bisexual men’s knowledge of STIs, but personally I’d prefer someone was diagnosed with gonorrhoea, which is curable, than HIV.’
Many of those who responded to the survey elaborated with further details.
‘A friend saw my status “negative on PrEP” on Grindr and contacted me saying they were concerned about me as a result,’ says Rob, 35 from south east England.
‘I had to explain in detail how taking PrEP is a responsible action and doesn’t imply that I am taking sexual risks. It’s the opposite in fact.’
A gay man in London who is on the NHS trial, but wished to remain anonymous, spoke to Gay Star News.
‘Some people approach you from a point of ignorance, and so automatically assume because you’re now on PrEP, you are having condomless sex all the time with anything that moves and paying no regard to your wider sexual health.
‘People are at pains to remind you that it only protects against HIV. Like yes, I know! But on the other hand, I’ve had some really positive conversations, especially with people who are thinking about going on it, or who are also on it themselves.
‘I have to admit sometimes I ask others if they’re more hoe-ish [on PrEP] mostly because I’m jealous if it looks like they’re getting more than me!’
The importance of testing regularly
Some might say that reminding people that PrEP doesn’t protect you from other STIs cannot always be taken as a negative.
‘Of course, people should look after their sexual health, which includes HIV and STIs,’ says HERO’s Liam Murphy.
‘Condoms are very effective at preventing a range of STIs when having anal sex, but unless you are using condoms for oral, that’s where the protection ends. That’s why testing regularly is so important.
‘However, the assertion that PrEP doesn’t protect against other STIs therefore we shouldn’t have it is false, harmful and feeds into shame and stigma around men having sex with men.’
HERO chief Ian Howley continues: ‘There’s a stigma associated with PrEP that we don’t see with any other medication, most likely because it’s linked to sex and lots of gay men still have hang-ups and shame associated with the type of sex that are having.
‘But because PrEP is 99% and not 100% effective and because it doesn’t stop other STIs, for many that’s enough for them to stop anyone from using it. That’s irresponsible.’