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Op-Ed: I am On Truvada, But I am Not a Whore

 On July 16, 2012, The FDA approved the use of the HIV drug Truvada to help people at high risk of infection to avoid contracting the HIV virus. Many people were excited that there was a way to further protect themselves from getting HIV. It gave at-risk men who already refused to wear condoms the chance to be safer. But for whatever reason people decided to take it, Truvada as Pre-exposure prophylaxis, also colloquially known as “PrEP,” made sexually active men and women feel safer when engaging in otherwise unprotected sex.

However, on November 12, 2012, writer David Duran penned an article called “Truvada whores.” In the article, published on The Huffington Post, he shared his opinion on Truvada, ultimately saying that people who take PrEP are whores. His article went viral…

Duran soon composed another article explaining that he never thought Truvada as PrEP was a bad idea, and that people who are HIV-negative and choose to take PrEP are taking a big step forward towards helping to put an end to the stigma surrounding HIV. But the damage was already done. The term “Truvada Whore” had become national lingo, and the opinions behind the term created a schism that pinned individuals who take Truvada as PrEP against those who don’t.

Some people who take Truvada could care less about being called a whore. They use the hashtag #TruvadaWhore and wear shirts with the slogan printed across their chests. But for others interested in taking Truvada, they may not want to be known as whores. And because of this #TRUVADAWHORE movement, these people won’t go on it because of the associated stigma.

I have been on Truvada for a while now. I went on it because I am a promiscuous man who has sex with men and I don’t always wear condoms. I am not a whore, but I love sex, and I hate having to stop when I am in the heat of the moment to grab a condom. By being on PrEP, I am able to keep going at it with my sexual partners without having the guilty feelings following bareback sex, wondering if any of them did, in fact, have HIV. I also chose to go on PrEP because I have had condoms break before, and there is always that night out when you get too intoxicated and you make a bad decision to have sex without a condom.

As an advocate and by doing outreach for PrEP, I have received mixed reactions from a lot of individuals. Most people ask what PrEP is. I will simply tell them about the basics and then direct them to their doctor or to the doctors at World Health Clinicians’ CIRCLE CARE Center (www.whcccc.org and www.circlecarecenter.org) to learn more or to find out if it is right for them. I have found that the more people I talk to in larger cities across the U.S. that PrEP is well known. But when I talk to people in the smaller areas, they have never heard of it.

The next most common question I get is, “how much does PrEP cost?” My answer is that most insurance companies will pay for it. If the deductible is high, the pharmaceutical company Gilead offers coupons. If you don’t have insurance, Gilead has a program that will assist eligible HIV–negative adults in the U.S. to access Truvada for PrEP.  

I have had a mix of both positive and negative feedback when bringing up the topic of PrEP during conversations either in-person or online. I have even spoken to people who lived through the 1980s and 1990s who wished that PrEP was around in the decades that saw the HIV/AIDS epidemic at its start and its height. PrEP would have saved so many of their friends and they would have gone on it as well. I recently spoke to a couple in their 50s wherein both partners use PrEP to play with a third sexual partner, or sometimes more. They said that they started using PrEP to feel open and free, and that they had mentioned that they are “poz neutral”; meaning that they engage in sex with people who are HIV-positive.

                  Lots of guys who are on PrEP will hit me up and thank me for getting the word out there. And multiple guys have told me that, when they requested to go on PrEP, their doctors would look the other way. They also had mentioned that their doctors knew they were gay but never really acknowledged them. My advice to them was to switch to a gay or gay-friendly doctor.

                  Then there’s the negative feedback…   When asked if I use both PrEP and condoms, I say that it is recommended but that I don’t use condoms all the time. Personally, I leave it up to my sexual partner to make the choice. I will never force someone to engage in bareback sex. To this answer, I once received the response: “so you risk spreading other diseases?” I simply responded by saying that I get routine lab work done and that if I had any symptoms of an STI, I would head directly to the doctor for treatment. My Inquisitor responded with, “Sad…”

Another example of a negative response was when I had said “hi” to a person on one a social media app. Because of my username,“TopOnPrep,” his response was: “the fact that you’re on prep says a lot about you. I’ve already lost respect.” I was upset by this response but not because I was turned down. I was upset because he expressed just how uneducated he is about PrEP. Of course, I tried to reach out and educate him, but I got blocked and was unable to interact with him any longer.

I am hoping people who are not on PrEP and want to go on it realize that they’re not a whore based on the decision to add one more line of protection against contracting HIV. I hope that people who want to take PrEP do so, and that they realize that they are a responsible person making a really good decision. I also hope that everyone who is currently taking PrEP comes out without shame or fear. Just as with many life decisions, no one should ever be made ashamed of making the right choice. PrEP is just one more way of protecting oneself from contracting HIV, and we cannot shame anyone who decides to choose this as their method of choice.