Using four great options to prevent HIV: a combination for success

By Emen8, updated 1 week ago in Health / Sexual health

one man in white singlet intimately hugs another man in white t shirt from behind

In the past few years, Australia has seen incredible changes to the ways guys keep themselves and their partners safe from HIV. From condoms to preventative medicines, different methods work for different guys… and that can all change depending on the circumstances.

More than one way to protect

Did you know there are four different ways to stop the spread of HIV? It wasn’t so long ago we mostly relied on one: condoms. But a lot’s changed over the years. What’s important now is helping guys understand their options:

Condoms : The backbone of HIV prevention for over 35 years since the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Condoms are cheap, readily available and straightforward to use. And they’re still the most popular choice made by guys looking to protect against HIV and most other STIs.

PrEP: This involves regular use of a preventative medicine taken by people who do not have HIV. PrEP helps prevent someone from getting the virus and becoming HIV positive. It works by protecting against HIV at a cellular level inside the body. Using PrEP involves seeing a doctor every three months for comprehensive HIV and STI tests.

Undetectable Viral Load: People living with HIV who use HIV treatment medicine can stay healthy and eliminate the possibility of transmitting the virus. This is done by maintaining what’s called an undetectable viral load. A viral load is a measure of how much of the virus is present in someone’s blood. Maintaining an undetectable viral load means there’s zero chance of someone transmitting HIV through sex — even when condoms aren’t being used.

PEP: This is a 28 day course of anti-HIV medicine taken only when needed after a possible exposure to HIV — such as when a condom slips, breaks or isn’t used. When started within 72 hours (and ideally as soon as possible), PEP can significantly reduce the chance of someone becoming HIV positive.

Guys like Tom use PrEP to prevent HIV | Emen8

Combination prevention

More options means more and more guys are choosing to protect themselves and their partners with these highly effective methods. As a result Australia is recording unprecedented drops in new HIV cases among guys into other guys.

It’s all down to the guys who test often, choose PrEP, start and stay on HIV treatment, use condoms, or seek out PEP when it’s needed. All of these are great options for preventing HIV and they’re all doing their bit to stop the spread. Because choosing any form of HIV prevention is better than choosing none at all.

“All of these are great options for preventing HIV…”

Interestingly enough, there’s also a new emerging trend of combining HIV prevention options — especially when situations change.

For some guys, sex with a regular partner might involve a combination of using PrEP, relying on an undetectable viral load and having an open conversation about safety — even if it doesn’t involve using condoms. Whereas sex with casual partners might mean using condoms most, or at least some, of the time.

Guys like Johann stay undetectable to prevent HIV | Emen8

It’s always a good move to discuss when condoms will or won’t be used. Because what’s just as important as choosing an HIV prevention option is having a conversation about it.

When it looks like you might swap more bodily fluids than contact details, it’s OK to reach for added protection. And if there’s the chance of a next time, having a way to stay in touch is always useful — for planning your next meet and in case you need to chat about your test results too.

Whatever works for you, it’s still important to be respectful of each other’s choices — even if they’re not the same as yours. Choosing your own approach to HIV prevention goes hand in hand with respecting someone else’s decision to protect themselves in ways that work for them.

Negotiating safety

Decisions for healthy outcomes are best started with conversations about safety. It’s all about looking after yourself and the people you have sex with.

No matter your choice of HIV prevention options, HIV isn’t the only thing most guys want to avoid. Wanting to steer clear of other STIs (sexually transmitted infections) is also a normal part of a healthy sex life.

Even if you do happen to pick up any, common STIs such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea or Syphilis are straightforward to detect and treat. You can find nearby testing services using our interactive map.

“…what’s just as important as choosing an HIV prevention option is having a conversation about it.”

Using a condom every time helps reduce the risk of STIs but doesn’t eliminate it. If you’re not using condoms for oral sex or dams for rimming, it’s still possible for STIs to spread this way. That’s why going for regular sexual health testing is still an essential part of all good sexual health strategies.

Guys like Wade use condoms to prevent HIV | Emen8

So whether you rely on PrEP, an undetectable viral load, condoms, an emergency course of PEP when it’s needed, or even a blend of options, having real conversations about real choices is the foundation for everyone’s safety and enjoyment.

Real guys making real choices

We caught up with guys around Australia to find out how they each make choices, and how that can sometimes change based on the circumstances. Check out their videos here:

As well as discovering how these guys prevent HIV, we also caught up with sexual health specialist, Dr Vincent Cornelisse, to chat about HIV prevention options and choosing a healthcare provider:

Discover more about sexual health

If you’d like to discover more about sexual health or chat with someone about what options could be right for you, support is available.

Check out our Knowledge Hub or start a conversation in Messenger.

Alternatively, reach out to your local HIV/AIDS or LGBTI health organisation as well as community groups for people living with HIV and for people choosing PrEP. Find details in our national network of partners.

For HIV and STI testing anywhere in Australia, check out our interactive testing services map.