If it gets approved in Australia, should all gay men start PrEP?
Are you PrEPared for 2016?
If it gets approved in Australia, should all gay men start PrEP? I don’t often have casual sex, but when I meet someone, I want to be as safe as possible; more than just condoms. The “dating” world has changed a lot in the eleven years since I was last single and having casual sex with anyone is daunting.
Dating can be daunting, especially if you’ve been out of the scene for the past eleven years. You might have noticed that it’s easier these days to order sex online than it is to order pizza - and it’s often hotter when it arrives.
Peeps are grinding, scruffing and squirting all over town, but a sexual smorgasbord also comes with an infectious buffet of belligerent bugs. Even in 2016 there’s nothing more protective than a piece of latex between you and your bae, but condoms have their problems. Some guys lose sensation and feel like their dick is wrapped in a tube sock. Others lose their erection whilst wrestling with the wrapper. Realistically not everybody likes them, not everybody uses them and even the people who are vigilant with condoms still have slip-ups.
If you happen to get a bacterial infection like chlamydia, gonorrhoea or syphilis, we can fortunately use antibiotics to treat you. Unfortunately we don't have a vaccination or cure for HIV yet - and this is where PrEP comes in.
PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) means taking one tablet a day to prevent yourself from getting HIV and the scientific evidence for PrEP is extremely positive.
PrEP is effective. Studies show that taking PrEP decreases your chance of getting HIV by more than 90%. Some medical researchers have even stated that they’ve not seen a new diagnosis of HIV in people taking four or more PrEP pills per week!
PrEP is safe. People living with HIV (PLHIV) need to take three or more antiretroviral medications every day to keep HIV at undetectable levels and two of these commonly used drugs are contained in every PrEP pill. These drugs have already been through medical trials and are currently used throughout the world - so we already know how safe they are and what side effects to expect.
PrEP may not cause any side effects at all, but some peeps report stomach cramps, decreased appetite or crazy dreams. Overall these side effects are mild and usually disappear within a few days.
More significant side effects can occur with PrEP, including decreased bone density and decreased kidney function. If your family members have a history of osteoporosis, if you’ve already got weak bones or if you have dodgy kidneys, please tell your doctor before you start PrEP.
PrEP isn’t for everyone but if you think it might be for you, book an appointment with a GP who specialises in HIV medicine. You’ll need a full sexual health screen and a kidney check. This usually means a blood test, peeing in a cup, a throat swab and and anal swab. A Bone Mineral Density test might be recommended if your doctor is concerned about your bones.
If you’re started on PrEP you’ll need to have blood and urine tests every 3 months. This checks your HIV status, looks for other sexually transmitted infections, and keeps an eye on your kidney function. If problems occur, PrEP can be stopped and your body is likely to return to back to normal.
Science is saying “YES” but funding issues and political red tape are still saying “NO”. At the moment it looks like PrEP may not be funded by the Australian Government until 2017.
Can’t wait? Speak with your GP about getting a private PrEP prescription. You can then buy it from a Australian pharmacy (~$1000/month), but it’s a fair bit cheaper online (~$100/month).
Overall it’s important to be PrEPared for sex in 2016, so chat with your GP and decide whether PrEP is right for you.