PrEP Schooled

Published: March 20, 2014

 As of 2010, 28 years after Michael Callen and Richard Berkowitz introduced the concept of safe sex as a way to fight the AIDS epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control reported that men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for more than 63 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S. The problem is particularly acute in minority communities and 13- to 24-year-olds, the only group where new infections have increased 22 percent in recent years. HIV is no respecter of age or any other demographic, however; as of 2010, 20 percent of all new cases are occurring in people 45 and over.

 
Given those stats, it’s become obvious that, for whatever reason, a lot of gay men are not using condoms.
 
In June 2012, Gilead Sciences was given the go-ahead to market Truvada as a way to help stem the tide. Taking a Truvada pill daily, known as PrEP—short for pre-exposure prophylaxis—has been shown to be highly effective in reducing the possibility of HIV infection. But as of last March, only 1,774 people filled prescriptions for daily use, which has led to a lot of speculation as to why PrEP has failed to take off.
 
Although expensive, most major insurers cover PrEP in the belief that it’s cheaper for them than the costs of long-term HIV meds. Only a few minor side effects have been reported, and they went away as soon as the regimen was discontinued.
 
Many people point a finger at “slut shaming,” calling out PrEP users as “Truvada whores,” though the tactic is not limited to those taking the drug. After flying under the media’s radar, slut shaming burst into public view when Dan Savage told a writer for the New York Times, “The guys these sensible health care folks are trying to reach are not sensible. They are self-identified idiots who can only be saved by a vaccine.”
 
Savage was talking about promiscuous gays who are not on PrEP, but his words are echoed in the comments of Towleroad readers responding to a HuffPo column by Peter Staley, one of the nation’s best-known AIDS activists, on gay-on-gay slut shaming and HIV stigma. “You know why stigma is worse than ever?” asked one commenter. “Look in the mirror! The over 80% of us gays who don’t have a 100% preventable disease are sick of hearing about it!”
 
“Stigma, stigma, stigma. Whine, whine, whine. And then go bareback some more,” another Towleroad reader posted.
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