Roderick brought PrEP with him from New York to the Netherlands. He was surprised how few Dutch people actually know about PrEP.
“All the people I know who have HIV say they got it from someone they trusted. That was why I decided to start taking PrEP. I started using it a few years ago when I lived in New York, a city where there were tons of new HIV infections in the days before there was PrEP. When I moved to the Netherlands, I got it through my family doctor.”
“I wasn’t worried about what others would think. For me, the fact that I can take a pill a day that will prevent me from getting a chronic disease, was a no-brainer. Whenever I used to get tested for HIV, I would always be worried that it would show positive. As long as I take PrEP, those tests won’t be positive and that has had a major impact on how I deal with sex.”
“Some people don’t have any side effects at all, but for me the side effects were very hard to deal with in the beginning. I had pretty heavy diarrhea for two weeks, I was dizzy and had intense lucid dreams (dreams where you are conscious of dreaming, ed.). For some people, theses symptoms are so serious that they stop taking it, but in my case I was lucky they calmed down quite quickly.”
“What I like so much about PrEP is that you don’t have to trust that someone else is doing the right thing: you take the entire responsibility for your own sexual health into your own hands. Because it’s not just a question of taking a pill once a day: you are also tested for HIV and STIs every three months. If you do end up getting an STI, they catch it really quickly. In my experience, people who take PrEP are more comfortable talking about their sexual health and are not ashamed.”
The opposite of reckless
“I think it can be compared to the introduction of the anticonceptive pill. For many women, it was extremely liberating, but they also had to deal with the stigma that it supposedly made them promiscuous. When people hear that you take PrEP, they immediately jump to conclusions. They often think you have a wild reckless sex life. What I try to make people realise is that taking PrEP is the opposite of reckless. People sometimes criticised me on dating apps. When people I was chatting with heard that I use PrEP, some said it turned them off. ‘Oh, you seemed like such a nice, sensible guy’. It makes no sense at all. I actually managed to educate a few of them and got them to think about it more. But sometimes they said they thought I was being unnecessarily difficult. Hey, hello, you just implied I am a slut because I use PrEP!”
“There are plenty of guys who regularly have casual sex and don’t get tested regularly. If they have an STI, they could be carrying it around with them for god knows how long, infecting other guys the whole time. The other day someone tole me I should just use a condom instead of taking PrEP. Pure hypocrisy, because I know very few people who use a condom during oral sex, and you can get all kinds of STIs by doing that. Even worse: of the three times I got an STI, one of them was when I used a condom.”
“I have noticed that people in the Netherlands don’t seem to know much about PrEP. That really surprised me. Marijuana and prostitution are legal here, you’d think that the Netherlands would be more progressive in the field of sexual health care. I am still glad I started PrEP when I did. I didn’t have to feel guilty anymore for having sex without a condom. I used to be scared of my sexuality, I couldn’t really enjoy sex and since I started using PrEP, I have become much freer. I am now in a monogamous permanent relationship. When we first met, we both used PrEP, but now we are both thinking about slowly stopping PrEP.”
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!
Text: Martijn Tulp