Shame, stigma and the slutty little pill: the PrEP experience

prep slutty pill

The PrEP experience often proves a double-edged sword for users: an effective preventative medicine but one that carries a stigma. So, let’s talk about sex, PrEP and slut-shaming.

Times change, medical knowledge increases, and how we deal with HIV evolves. Our community regularly confronts the need to reflect on the changing circumstances and the cultural impact of the HIV epidemic.

These reflections usually come in the form of a conversation that bridges generational divides.

Older generations of queer people, particularly men who have sex with other men (MSM) are usually extremely well-versed in HIV prevention practices.

Every time we are reminded of this, we are also reminded that they barely had a choice in the matter. They had to be educated in order to navigate and survive the devastation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Nowadays, we might presume that the passing down of this knowledge may also be a process of normalisation.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t really been the case.

Many of us are either using PrEP or know of someone that is. Many more of us probably know someone who is taking PrEP and chooses to not disclose this fact.

Without thinking too hard about it, the answer as to why this is the case is apparent – the use of PrEP carries with it certain stigmatised assumptions.

These assumptions are, of course, that PrEP-users have multiple sex partners.

This year, as we reflect, let’s turn our attention to this stigma and address the implicit harm it’s causing in our communities.

What are we doing wrong?

In 2018, a qualitative study found that most people using PrEP had an overwhelmingly positive experience taking the medication.

Despite this, the study also revealed stigma around PrEP — slut-shaming — as the biggest hurdle for most PrEP-users.

The stigma works two-fold. Firstly, it reinforces the paranoia surrounding condomless sex, evidently often equated with the use of PrEP.

And secondly, it works to condition the judgments that others make about PrEP-users based on the implied reason for their use of it.

One of the men involved in the study revealed that he did not discuss using PrEP with his peers, as it would invite judgements about the non-monogamous relationship he had with his husband.

This kind of self-imposed ‘PrEP-closet’ is a common experience for many queer people. And it doesn’t take much to understand why.

Another participant, for instance, reported facing stigma even from medical professionals.

After revealing his use of PrEP, the participant recounts, his doctor immediately made assumptions about his sexual habits and sought to test him for an array of sexual diseases.

Unfortunately, despite all the progress in relation to the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, the shaming of sexual liberty lives on.

Where to from here?

The social implications of this phenomenon are hard to qualify but necessary for the conversation.

The medical advances allowing younger generations of queer people to feel so far removed from the once looming threat of HIV have proven a double-edged sword.

We, as a community, have surely moved beyond the bounds of slut-shaming. And yet, the mere usage of PrEP seemingly carries with it so much baggage.

The effort to ‘end HIV/AIDS by 2030‘ has to start within the community. We have to re-assess and re-educate in order to interrogate the harmful presumptions and stigmas lingering across our social circles.

HIV/AIDS prevention should not be seen as risqué or hypersexual. It should be embraced, open-armed.

Taking PrEP is a green flag. The greenest of green flags.

So let’s start there.

Read Also: PrEP users less sexually compulsive and use less drugs.

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Nate Woodall

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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