PrEP Stories: Phil

On  a visit to Sydney in March 2014 I mentioned to a psychologist friend that I was increasingly having bareback sex. Each time this happened I would beat myself up afterwards – but then not long after, would do it again. I had tried to analyse why I was doing that. I often struggled to stay erect using condoms and found that sex was much more pleasurable when not using them. I was testing for HIV & STIs every 4-6 months, and each time I experienced a high level of anxiety.

I was shocked when he explained to me that there was a pill I could take that would prevent me from getting infected with HIV. I had never heard of PrEP before.  I did some research online and one of the resources I found was the PrEP Facts group on Facebook. It was very reassuring to find a whole ‘community’ taking these pills and discussing them at length. After following discussions for a few days and hearing what was happening in the U.S. where the drug had been approved by the FDA since 2012; I knew this was going to be the way I would be able to relax about not using condoms every time and also feel confident that I would not become infected with HIV.

I was shocked when he explained to me that there was a pill I could take that would prevent me from getting infected with HIV.

I got a script from my doctor after having the necessary tests and ordered the first 3 months’ supply of pills online. When I started taking the pills I had stomach issues for 2 weeks and really bad pains for 2 days. Fortunately after the 2 week period my body became accustomed to the medication and I have experienced no further side effects. I missed out on the vivid dreams that many people seem to experience. Just after I ordered my next supply of pills I was fortunate enough to get a place on the VICPrEP  trial which obviously has reduced the cost of PrEP for me substantially. Over the past 15 months of being on the trial I have had issues with my GFR (kidney function levels). When I started taking PrEP my GFR was 90. Over a six month period it dropped right down to 60 – and at that point I was sent for a kidney ultrasound and other tests were done to determine if there were any kidney issues. Fortunately nothing was discovered but my doctor told me if it dropped any further I would have to stop taking the pills. Luckily for me the levels started climbing and at my last quarterly test my GFR was back at 85. No reason why this has happened has been found.

It was when I was told that I may need to stop taking PrEP that I realised just how much it had changed my life. PrEP has given me the freedom to not consider HIV status at all when choosing sexual partners. It has completely taken HIV off the table. I have no fear or anxiety about sex anymore and I have total confidence in the effectiveness of PrEP. Since starting PrEP I have included it on my online profiles and early in 2015 made the decision not to have any more sex with condoms.

I believe that PrEP is the best news regarding HIV since the mid 1990s. For the first time there is a very real opportunity to dramatically cut the number of new HIV infections with the combination of PrEP and TasP. Hopefully it won’t be too long before new HIV infections are a thing of the past in Australia.

Phil Joffe

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