'We can’t let tradition stop us from embracing new HIV prevention options'

24 January 2019

Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of NAM aidsmap, on how PrEP should be embraced and celebrated, and new safer sex messages accepted.

Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of NAM aidsmap

It can be difficult for some gay men, who lost friends and lovers during the worst days of the epidemic, to accept that the safer sex message has evolved. However, we can’t afford to let tradition prevent us from taking full advantage of developments in our ability to prevent HIV. PrEP, when taken as prescribed, is almost 100% effective. There are no recorded cases of someone with an undetectable viral load passing the virus on sexually. Both offer greater protection against HIV acquisition than condoms do.

Before effective treatment came along, when we had lost thousands of lives to AIDS, I’m sure the idea of a pill that could prevent infection would have been hailed as little short of a miraculous gift. Now, with a greatly reduced death toll, just such a treatment has been tested and found to be effective. PrEP should be embraced and celebrated.

Different safer sex strategies will suit different people. The important thing is that individuals are supported to adopt a strategy that they can keep to and that will be effective for them.

For many gay and bisexual men, condom use has become intertwined with morality and notions of being a good gay man. I believe that notion has caused harm. Telling someone that they are wrong or disordered because they prefer to have sex without condoms, only serves to alienate them from sexual health messaging. Condoms are good for gay and bi men because they prevent transmission of infections - but that doesn’t make condom use morally superior to other methods of preventing HIV acquisition.

We agree with Matthew that ‘different safer sex strategies will suit different people’ and have launched a new campaign to talk about how HIV prevention is changing and what we can do to make sure our conversations about safer sex keep pace. We think people should know their options and not judge others’ choices. Explore the rest of the campaign to see more.

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Written by Matthew Hodson

Executive Director of NAM aidsmap