In the past few years, Australia has seen incredible changes to the ways guys keep themselves and their partners safe from HIV. From using condoms to highly effective preventative medicines, different methods work for different guys, and that can all change depending on the circumstances.
More than one way to prevent HIV
Did you know there are four different ways to stop the spread of HIV? It wasn’t so long ago that we mostly talked about one: condoms. But a lot has changed over the years, and what’s important now is helping guys understand their options with all of the choices available. In case you’re not familiar with them, here’s an overview:
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 who want to prevent HIV and other STIs.
Undetectable Viral Load: People living with HIV who use medicine for treatment can stay healthy and eliminate the possibility of transmitting the virus 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.
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 testing so guys can feel confident about being protected and maintaining their sexual health and wellbeing.
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.
With all of these options available, it’s unsurprising that more and more guys are making the choice to protect themselves and their partners using these highly effective methods. And the effect of these efforts is that Australia is recording unprecedented drops in new HIV cases for men who have sex with men!
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. They’re all doing their bit to stop the spread of HIV.
Of course, all of these are great options for preventing HIV in different ways. And they’re all important and have their uses in different scenarios. What’s good to remember is that choosing any form of HIV prevention is better than choosing none at all. But what’s really interesting right now is the emerging trend of combining HIV prevention options, especially when situations and circumstances change.
“…all of these are great options for preventing HIV in different ways.”
For some guys, sex with a regular partner might involve combining PrEP or an undetectable viral load with conversations 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.
Even when condoms are your first choice, discussing when they will or won’t be used is always a good move. Because what’s just as important as choosing an HIV prevention option is having a conversation about it.
And let’s face it, when it looks like you might swap more bodily fluids than contact details, it’s OK to consider using some added protection. If there’s the chance of a next time, having a way to stay in touch is always useful — not just for planning your next meet, but in case you need to let each other know about your latest 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.
We know it’s important for guys to be empowered to make realistic decisions that consider sexual satisfaction as well as their sexual wellbeing. And decisions that lead to good 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. Trying to avoid the possibility of picking up 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 locate testing services nearby and across Australia using our interactive map.
“…what’s just as important as choosing an HIV prevention option is having a conversation about it.”
Remember that using condoms correctly and consistently every time helps reduce the risk of picking up an STI but doesn’t eliminate that risk. And if you’re not using condoms for oral sex or dams for rimming, it’s still possible to get and pass on STIs this way. Going for regular sexual health testing is still an essential part of all good sexual health strategies.
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
There are heaps of ways guys are using different methods to stop the spread of HIV. We caught up with some of these 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:
- Guys like Wade use condoms to prevent HIV
- Guys like Jason and Jeff use PrEP to prevent HIV
- Guys like Johann stay undetectable to prevent HIV
- Guys like Tom use PrEP to prevent HIV
- Guys like Gregory and Michael use condoms to prevent HIV
- Guys like Carlos stay undetectable to prevent HIV
Discover more about sexual health
If you’d like to discover more about looking after your sexual health, how to make informed choices for your own protection, or even to chat with someone about what options could be right for you, support is available.
You can also reach out to your local HIV/AIDS or LGBTI health organisation as well as community groups providing support to people living with HIV, and for people considering PrEP. Details can be found in our national network of partners.
For information on where you can go for HIV and STI testing anywhere in Australia, check out our interactive testing services map.
And for more detailed information on HIV prevention methods, check out these great articles too: