‘Sorry, I don’t use it and I don’t want to waste any more time chatting about this.’
That was the response I got from a recent sexual partner after I asked whether he was on PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) – a drug that is highly effective at stopping you getting HIV from sex.
I take it every day and I like anyone I’m with to take it too, but I was already in the Uber on the way to his place.
As the conversation about our sexual health progressed, it was clear that he was very ignorant and dismissive of PrEP – like it was a waste of time – and he even said it was ‘pointless’ talking about it because he just wanted to get laid.
Even though I was annoyed, I still went ahead with the hook-up, but my excitement had worn off. I just didn’t enjoy the whole thing because it felt like he didn’t care about his health.
This encounter is why – as a Black gay man – I believe more people need to be aware of the benefits of this life-changing drug, especially queer men within my community.
I’m half-Nigerian and half-Jamaican, but I was born in London. I’ve always been quite open about my sexuality.
As a result, I have partaken in a really special campaign with the HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust and HIV Prevention England called ‘It Starts With Me’, which encourages Black queer men to test regularly. I was very proud to be a part of it.
Alongside this, practising safe sex has always been really important to me. I use condoms, as well as test regularly to make sure I am protecting my sexual health.
I first heard about PrEP from some gay friends when I was in my 20s a few years ago. Immediately, it sounded like a great idea and such an amazing achievement in science.
I didn’t start taking it until 2018 though, as I wasn’t sure if it was right for me.
So initially, I took it ‘event-based’, which means you take two tablets – between two and 24 hours – before you have sex, then one tablet every 24 hours until you’ve had two sex-free days.
But sometimes I relied on other people to supply me with PrEP if I didn’t have any. So after a while, it generally became equated with stress, which affected my mental well-being and relationship with sex.
Over time, I have found what works for me and this is taking daily PrEP. This is because I spoke to my local sexual health clinic and they suggested this change as I have a very busy social lifestyle and can be forgetful. As a result, I try to test every three months.
To remind me to take it, I also have an app that alerts me – in case I forget, an alarm sounds. Since doing it this way, I feel fully prepared for any potential sexual encounters and there is zero stress on me.
Black History Month
October marks Black History Month, which reflects on the achievements, cultures and contributions of Black people in the UK and across the globe, as well as educating others about the diverse history of those from African and Caribbean descent.
For more information about the events and celebrations that are taking place this year, visit the official Black History Month website.
This has been a complete life-changer for me because it’s silenced my anxiety around HIV.
If I’m going to have sex, it’s important that we both take our sexual health seriously and protect ourselves. PrEP gives me confidence in what we’re doing and lets me just enjoy sex.
Not everyone shares this sentiment though.
Especially in the Black queer community, it seems that some are too scared to come into the light – even risking their sexual health just to try and stay anonymous.
The reasons for this can be complicated, but some ‘down low’ (or DL) men I’ve spoken to on dating apps are nervous that it could somehow come back to their friends or family, who they’re not ‘out’ to.
For the last few weeks, I have been talking to a guy on an app who is extremely anxious about protecting his identity. As a result, all his body pics have the head cut off and his face pictures are sent as ‘disappearing’ head shots.
This is in case, somehow, someone may find out that he has been using a gay app. He even talks to me on a burner phone.
When I broached the subject of PrEP, he told me he was not interested in it because he still lives at home and was worried that the hospital or clinic might send correspondence using his house phone or by letter and that his parents would see it.
I tried to assure him that, in the copious years I have been taking PrEP, clinicians are always extremely discreet and only contact people via text message – unless directed otherwise. In fact, if you are concerned about being ‘outed’, they can take any steps required to protect your anonymity.
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Platform is the home of Metro.co.uk’s first-person and opinion pieces, devoted to giving a platform to underheard and underrepresented voices in the media.
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But his fear was just too high. This is something I battle with on a habitual basis when speaking to Black men on dating or hook-up apps.
Unfortunately, Black gay and bisexual men in the UK are disproportionately more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than white men. In fact, according to a 2017 report, there is ‘no evidence that this health inequality has narrowed since 2001’.
Something needs to change and I want to do whatever I can to help. That’s why I’m sharing my story.
As Black queer men, we need to take control of our sexual health by getting on PrEP and testing regularly.
It’s so much safer to care about your sexual health, than completely ignore it.
For more information about PrEP, visit the Terrence Higgins Trust website here
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
Share your views in the comments below.
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