He’ll be here soon. We’ve had sex before, but I wasn’t on PrEP back then. How’s he going to respond when I tell him, and what’s going to happen?
There’s this sensation of my heart beating closer to my mouth than it really is.
The amber filaments of the exposed light globe add a surreal edge to the way the room is dimly lit, anticipating his arrival. There’s no harshness here; sex and intimacy are on the cards. That in itself isn’t new. But the chemicals protecting my body from HIV at a cellular level are… at least to me. I don’t fully get how the science works. Would even knowing how PrEP helps prevent HIV change the way I feel about using it anyway?
Calling it ‘biomedical HIV prevention’ makes it sound straight out of science fiction. But I’m getting used to it being science fact; even if it’s medical wonders are beyond my understanding.
At least with a condom there’s this physical, tangible thing. I can see it, feel it, pick it up — I get it. And when I reach down to check it’s still on, I feel safe. I think I feel safe now. I wonder how many thousands of other guys on PrEP have had this thought. Maybe it’s just me.
Glancing at my phone resting on the arm of the low-backed, cool grey sofa, I’m sure he’ll be here soon. He’s not the first guy I’ve made out with on it. And I doubt he’ll be the last.
I already know how our routine goes. I mean, it starts predictably, but it’s never mundane. I’ll open the door and we’ll have this cute/awkward moment greeting each other again. I really want to kiss him from the get-go, though inside I tell myself “we’re not dating… but we will be fucking in the next 20 minutes”. We’ve done it all before. But he’s not a boyfriend and I don’t want to appear clingy. It’s just sex… I guess.
“It’s been a while since I did it without a condom.”
The faint aroma of a citrus-scented candle drifts in and out of my attention. It was a gift from some half-remembered party. Focussing on when it might have been given and from whom serves as a convenient, albeit fleeting distraction while I recall flashbacks of house parties in my mind’s eye.
It’s been a while since I did it without a condom. I’m sure not everyone on PrEP is like me though. Is it wrong to want intimacy with someone I trust without being afraid? I teeter between nervousness and excitement. It feels like some hyper-sensitive set of scales that never quite balances. Is that normal — am I normal? Is it ridiculous if I feel guilty for not feeling guilty about what’s on my mind?
He uses condoms. With me anyway. Does he use them with other guys? I told him it’s how I play right from when we first started hooking up, before I was on PrEP. Did I even ask him what he wants, or did I just lay down my own rules? Am I being overly presumptuous about how he wants to fuck now? … Shit!
I know he uses PrEP too. What else do I know about him? At least I know I’m using PrEP and getting tested regularly. That’s what matters.
“At least I know I’m using PrEP and getting tested regularly. That’s what matters.”
My best mate Tom has been pretty good with helping me get on PrEP. Well… for the most part.
The mellow dance music on the sound system fades out. I press play on another faithful playlist to provide an uncomplicated acoustic backdrop, adding to the relaxed atmosphere. The vibe is in stark contrast to the tone of my last conversation with Tom though. We had wildly different views about using PrEP.
Now, don’t get me wrong. He’s not a bad guy or anti-PrEP, or anything; he uses it too! Tom has joined our ever-growing number of mates using antiretrovirals to treat HIV or prevent it. Since then he’s been on some crusader-style mission to get anybody he encounters on PrEP too. I genuinely admire his passion to act on what he believes: “It’s about being personally responsible, Charlie. It’s about standing up for people living with HIV, Charlie. It’s about the whole community getting on board to make an impact, Charlie.”
I don’t disagree with his reasons. But choosing PrEP isn’t about that for me. I don’t feel compelled to get on a soapbox about the personal choices I make in private. I’m not trying to be a hero here. I just want to take my PrEP quietly every morning with my coffee and that’s it. I don’t want to make a meal out of swallowing a little blue pill.
“I just want to take my PrEP quietly every morning with my coffee and that’s it. I don’t want to make a meal out of swallowing a little blue pill.”
So what if my reasons for taking it aren’t ‘good reasons’… according to Tom. Who says we’re supposed to be part of some noble cause to use it? What difference does it make if my reasons don’t measure up to someone else’s values? There’s no need to focus on what makes us different. What’s important here is recognising what we have in common. Regardless of anyone’s reasons to use PrEP, the outcome is still the same: being extremely well protected against HIV.
I absentmindedly stroke the faux fur cushion wedged under my arm while contemplating some suitably rehearsed retort for when Tom and I next hang out. It’s kinda funny. Just not in the humorous way. All of these beliefs and emotions that create richness in our lives. While all the time there’s this virus we call HIV not caring about psychological sophistications of human beings. It’s just a virus looking for its next host.
“Regardless of anyone’s reasons to use PrEP, the outcome is still the same: being extremely well protected against HIV.”
A knock at the door breaks my spiralling train of thought. He’s here.
I make us some drinks and we sit down together side by side, our inconsequential chit-chat serving as verbal foreplay before the main event. He asks “So what’s news with you?” while I soak up just how handsome he is. He has this air of constant ease and authority. Confidence is sexy.
“Oh you know; same old. Work’s going well…” This is it. Now’s the time to come out with it. “I started PrEP”. An ice cube makes a popping sound in someone’s glass.
“Good for you Charlie! How’s that going?” His convivial tone reinforces a sympathetic sense of understanding between us. “Yeah, umm, no dramas really. I didn’t get any side effects or anything. It’s not been that exciting… so far.”
“Oh yeah? That’s good to hear.” He raises a single eyebrow while taking a slow, gentle sip, never breaking eye contact. I can’t help but notice a droplet of condensation trickle erratically down the cold glass as he tilts it to his lips. “Welcome to the club. Just got my test results back from my one year anniversary appointment.”
“Cool” What an uncool thing to say! Whatever. Just smile.
“Yeah…” he says, pauses and then adds “All clear” with a wink.
Again, there’s this sensation of my heart beating closer to my mouth than it really is.
As always, safe sex is a negotiation and it is important to be respectful of other people’s sexual health choices.
PrEP prevents HIV, but it doesn’t prevent other STIs. Using a condom every time helps prevent most STIs. Going for regular sexual health testing is the only way to know if you have an STI. Discover more in Eight reasons why you should get an STI test, even if you don’t think you need one
Charlie’s previous stories involve negotiating safe sex with a PrEP user: He told me he’s on PrEP and wanted raw sex, here’s what I said and supporting his friend’s concern about acquiring HIV: My mate got an STI from his undetectable buddy — could he get HIV too?
If you’d like to know more about some of the topics raised in this story, check out:
- Introducing PrEP – The little blue pill making a big impact
- Four reasons why: Figuring out if PrEP is right for you
- Got a PrEP question? Here’s where to find support
- Why can’t everyone just use a condom?
For more on HIV prevention, treatment and other sexual health topics, check out our Facts section.
How to get PrEP in Australia
Whether you want HIV protection for a one-off encounter, full-time coverage or anything in between, there’s a PrEP option to suit you. Discover more in Same PrEP, new choices: on-demand, periodic or daily