Justin works as a drag queen and as an employee at Sauna NZ. Through his job at the sauna, he came into contact with the GGD (Public Health Service) Amsterdam, where he was invited to take part in AMPrEP. This project researches what the practical implications are of the introduction of PrEP in the Netherlands.
“In the beginning I was very sceptical. You take pills so that you don’t have to take pills? You are doing exactly what you don’t want to do! But if you look at the bigger picture, it is a good idea. You keep other people form getting infected. And we can work towards a future that is completely free of HIV.
Of course I am not just doing it for the greater good, but for me as well. You can’t ignore the fact that homosexuals are a group that is at high risk for HIV, especially when you are mainly passive. On top of that, I have lots of contact with tourists because I’m not attracted to Dutch guys. You are just never sure what someone’s HIV status is. PrEP gives me that extra certainty, it is nice to have a backup for condoms.
I take PrEP daily; you can also chose to take PrEP on demand (before and after sex). But I like the continuity. My sex life is not planned and I want to keep it that way."
“I still use condoms, no question. Even though PrEP does protect you against HIV, you can still get a bunch of STIs. So I don’t see it as a replacement for condoms. But I have changed my outlook on it. I have become more aware of what I do, also because while taking part in AMPrEP, you have an app to keep track of your sexual contacts. I now wait longer than before to stop using condoms with someone I have known for a while and trust. I want more of a connection with the other person before I have that talk with them. I don’t even tell most of my potential sex partners that I use PrEP, because they often assume that I want to do it without a condom and that is not true. For me it is all about having that extra security for my own body.
Barebacking is not really the best reason to use PrEP, even though you are protected against HIV. There is not one doctor who will tell you ‘here is your PrEP, now you can throw away your condoms’, so why do people act like that is the case?”
That is not the only prejudice PrEP users have to deal with. “On Grindr, I still get comments. I don’t put it on my profile but there are guys who read or heard that I am in the AmPrEP programme. They assume that I am just slutting around and wouldn’t want a permanent relationship. But as a drag queen, who works in a sauna, I meet those types a lot. There is lots of discrimination and prejudice on the gay scene, but I am fed up with it. Me and a few other people are working on a drag show that fights these problems.”
Even though Justin was initially very sceptical of PrEP in the beginning, he is now proud to be participating in AMPrEP and likes to talk about it: “I like to be a part of the results. Lots of guys are not interested in the safety or risks of sex and don’t get themselves tested. I see this in my work at the sauna. Of course I never confront the guests with it. By participating in AMPrEP and telling people about it, I hope to achieve some good.
I am planning to stay in the project until the end, so until late 2018. But if I were to enter into a permanent monogamous relationship, I would stop taking PREP, because I wouldn’t longer be at risk any more at that point.”
Man to Man interviewed men with a wide variety of experiences and reasons to use PrEP. Their personal stories about sex and health do not necessarily reflect Man to Man’s recommendations. PrEP is a very effective way to protect yourself against HIV. For other STIs, condoms are the best available protection.
Do you want to tell which choices you make to protect yourself from HIV and/or STIs? Mail your story to Man tot Man!