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Trust me I’ve managed a gay sex club, gay men need PrEP now

Trust me I’ve managed a gay sex club, gay men need PrEP now

Cal Strode has managed a gay sex club, he knows a thing or two about safe sex

If there’s one thing I learned managing one of London’s busiest gay sex clubs it’s that you can adorn the building with sexual health information, condoms and lube until it looks like a GP’s surgery, it still won’t change the fact that in the moment, condoms don’t work for everyone.

We can’t continue to simply ignore the realities of how sex actually happens.

HIV prevention isn’t working well enough. That’s a fact. New HIV diagnoses among gay men are at an all-time high and show no sign of slowing down. We need all of the tools possible to be made available to us to combat the epidemic.

Many of the gay men at highest risk for HIV live their lives out of reach of public health interventions. People receiving PrEP from the NHS would have to attend a sexual health clinic every three months, engaging them with a sexual health system that they may have had a sporadic relationship with at best before PrEP. This is something that past public health interventions could only dream of.

As a community we have selectively chosen our arguments for PrEP to ensure credibility with decision makers and against our opposition who like to whip up moral panic. Although this is a valid approach, we risk perpetuating a sanitized narrative of our sex, the same sanitation that many believe helped us to win a seat at the marriage table.

PrEP is about a lot of things and we need to talk about all of them not just the ones that are palatable to the moral majority. PrEP is about sex without fear. PrEP is about sexual revolution and PrEP is about a gay community no longer divided by HIV status. We needn’t be afraid to say it.

When the contraceptive pill was first brought in, people speculated that there would be a sexual revolution, and yes, there was. The Economist recently listed the contraceptive pill as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Millions of women were willing to put up with the side effects of the pill in exchange for a birth control method that separated contraception from the act of sex.

PrEP is one of the seven modern wonders of the gay world, a prevention tool that separates HIV prevention from the act of sex. Continuing the moral debate about personal responsibility is not going to stop the HIV epidemic. Empowering people to take control of their risk with a range of tools will.

If we as gay men decide to have liberated condom-less sex with somebody, we deserve to have that experience untouched by shaming and moral judgement in the same way that heterosexuals do.

A coalition of health organisztions have published a community statement demanding access to PrEP and are calling on people to sign it. This is our chance to have our voices heard as decision makers decide if and how to make PrEP available.

As Deborah Gold, the chief exec of the National AIDS Trust put it in an interview:

‘If PrEP is not made available we are turning our backs on those most at risk, which would be a national disgrace. This community statement is our chance to demand access to PrEP as a public health imperative.’

I couldn’t agree more. Now is the time to speak up and have your voice heard, whatever your reasons for wanting PrEP.

If you would like to sign the community statement calling for access to PrEP, click here.