In a new five-part series entitled The Truvada Diaries, Martijn Tulp decides to take a daily dose of PrEP, and charts the affects taking the drug has on his life. This month he talks about going on the regime, despite reservations. Photo by Mgr. Madhatter.
The first instalment in The Truvada Diaries was originally found in the December 2016 Sex Issue of GCN.
When I first heard about PrEP I thought it was an interesting new development in the fight against HIV: a way to protect from HIV by simply taking one pill a day.
On one hand, it seemed revolutionary, and any development that will help finally get rid of new HIV infections altogether should only be applauded.
On the other hand I was a bit worried: if PrEP were to be embraced by the gay community, wouldn’t we all just get a lot more other STIs?
And let’s not forget how ‘wonderful’ and ‘innovative’ the pharmaceutical industry has shown itself to be, by discovering yet another way to make money off of HIV, without actually solving the problem.
After hearing about it from a guy I met on an online dating app, I toyed with the idea of ordering ‘generic’ PrEP from India for about €50 a month. Somehow that didn’t seem the most responsible way to do it. So when I was presented with the opportunity to join a study of 370 gay men in Amsterdam who would be taking PrEP, I immediately signed up.
As far as I’m concerned, there are plenty of reasons to start using PrEP. In the past year, my track record when it comes to using condoms hasn’t always been spotless. I’m well aware of the risks, but sometimes I’ve simply had a bit too much to drink, or just get too caught up in the moment.
I’m not in a relationship, don’t have any friends with benefits, so my sexual partners are usually one-night stands, mostly with tourists. I’ve noticed that most of them lately don’t seem that concerned with using a condom. If it hadn’t been for me getting a condom, I think about 50 percent of the guys I hooked up with would have engaged in condomless sex with me.
Luckily I’ve been okay so far, my half-yearly checkups (or more frequent, whenever I’ve been at risk) at the free clinic have always come back negative.
I get the impression that a lot of guys these days aren’t that afraid of HIV and Aids. Perhaps it’s because they weren’t grown-ups in the ’80s or ’90s, and didn’t see their group of gay friends decimated by an at-the-time seriously destructive disease.
Or maybe they’re simply a bit naive: I personally wouldn’t just trust someone who says they’ve gotten tested recently and everything came back negative.
I feel like the responsibility for my own health lies with myself, not with what some one-night stand tells me. I was a teenager in the 90s, where you couldn’t even turn on MTV without getting some kind of safe-sex message.
I feel like that’s what conditioned me to make sure there’s a condom involved whenever I have anal sex. But somehow I seem to be unable to abide by that rule 100 percent of the time.
Keep reading The Truvada Diaries to see what Martijn makes of the HIV social stigma, the negative side effects of PrEP and ‘Truvada whores’.
I realise we live in different times now. Getting infected with HIV isn’t a death sentence anymore, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and prevent getting it.
Even if it’s just to avoid the social stigma that is attached to it: a significant percentage of the dating pool will start seeing you as ‘undateable’ if you’re HIV positive. What if you meet the love of your life, but he says he can’t be with you because you’re HIV-positive?
Sure, you can just shrug your shoulders and tell yourself the guy is probably just not that well informed, but still. And when would you even bring this issue up when you start dating someone?
That’s not something I even want to have to consider, and I definitely don’t want to deal with that social stigma. I don’t feel a huge need to get on a soap-box all by myself and tell everyone they should be more open-minded regarding dating someone who is HIV-positive.
However, I do try to avoid people who say they only date ‘clean’ people on their dating profiles. That just rubs me up the wrong way.
PrEP Side Effects
Of course there are also reasons for not wanting to go onPrEP. Will happily take an aspirin if needed, but perhaps it’s a bit much to start taking a pretty heavy pill on a daily basis.
I’ve read blogs of gay men who say: why wouldn’t I take a pill a day to prevent that I’ll catch something that would cause me to have to take a pill a day?
That line of reasoning doesn’t hold up too well, I think, because it’s common knowledge that being HIV-positive just isn’t that great for your body in the long run, even if you take meds to suppress it and get declared ‘undetectable’.
I’m also fearful of the potential side effects, such as headaches, diarrhea, nausea, kidney problems, osteoporosis and sleeplessness.
Would it change my opinion on sex with condoms? Is it possible I might start bringing up condoms less, and just let things happen organically, because I’m already protected from HIV? I’ve never had an STI in my life – would I suddenly start getting them if I start having sex without condoms?
And then there’s the stigma PrEP users have to deal with. I’ve read a few articles about how guys in New York and San Francisco who are open about their PrEP use, are ‘lovingly’ called ‘Truvada whores’.
Because if you’re on PrEP, that automatically means you’re a barebacking cumslut who takes loads at every opportunity, right? Why else would you be taking PrEP, right? Wrong.
I’ve decided to do some more research and had a quick chat with a few guys who I know are on PrEP. I also had two conversations at the clinic, where I got all my questions answered and got to fill out my first questionnaire.
It included the question “In the past six months, have you used the drug ‘Meow Meow’?” I hadn’t, but frankly, the name sounds intriguing. I made my decision, and took my first pill today.
Check back for the next instalment in The Truvada Diaries in January or continue reading The Truvada Diaries in GCN’s January Issue.
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