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Stop PrEP-Shaming

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In 2012, a remarkable drug emerged. One that’s 100-percent effective in preventing HIV. In fact, PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is the closest thing to an HIV vaccine. It’s in the palms of our hands. Yet hardly anyone uses it. 


In the U.S., there are estimated 25,000 individuals on a PrEP regimen, which isn’t going to put a dent in any epidemic.

Some want PrEP but can’t get it. 

Some are scared of PrEP. 

And some just don’t know about it. 

Cost and finding doctors willing to prescribe PrEP are definite barriers. But the primary holdup is ... well, other factors related to our social interactions and environments.

Rampant homophobia, anxiety and stigma are the larger issues that make it difficult to seek PrEP. That’s frustrating. Because, by now, we should know better. 

There are clear parallels between PrEP and the dawn of oral contraception. And those similarities are all about slut-shaming.

The same types of social disgraces — regarding morality, sexual behavior and protecting virginity — occurred with “the pill.”

The purpose of birth control is to reduce unintended pregnancies. And it’s very effective. And for men who have sex men, slut-shaming is aimed at receptive sexual partners, often those at greatest risk for HIV infection.

This group is consistently ridiculed, by both gay and straight circles, because being the receptive sexual partner is stereotypically seen as unmanly. 

You can almost hear an Amy Schumer-tailored joke that goes something like, Who pays for the gay-wedding reception?

Punchline: The father of the bottom.

Schumer is sidesplitting. But, joking aside, fear-mongering and the inability to discuss sex ultimately helped fuel the HIV epidemic and will continue to do so, until we address our discomfort in talking about sexual behavior and other practices society deems as immoral.

Look at the push for abstinence-only education. The fear is, if you start teaching kids about sex, they’ll immediately form the desire to have sex. That’s not true. Knowledge is power. And teaching comprehensive sexuality supports young people’s ability to decide whether and when to have sex. 

Studies about sex-ed also recognize that sexual debut — the first time individuals have sex — is delayed because prepared adolescents have the smarts and skills to lead healthy sexual lives. However, it’s as if the trepidations regarding comprehensive sexuality have now leached into PrEP and it really is all about sex and more specifically the kind of sex you have.

Populations most effected by HIV — men who have sex with men, injection drug users, as well as racial and ethnic heterosexual women — are also impeded by fear, shame and homophobia. And those detractions impact the intention to ask providers or even friends about PrEP. 

If you’re not asking about PrEP, you won’t know much about it. That means you’re not going to seek getting on it.

We need to overcome anxiety and talk about sexual pleasure and the positive aspects of sex.

We need to reduce stress and fear while increasing our ability to make an emotional connection with a partner. 

We have a miraculous invention that could eradicate new HIV infections. 

So instead of just looking at sex as something that can negatively impact someone’s health, we need to look at how using PrEP improves one’s overall well-being as well as sexual health from a comprehensive point of view and not discuss its ability to prevention HIV transmission.

But, That’s just the start…

Because the inception of PrEP has the potential to create a conversation about sexuality that goes beyond HIV risk. But sadly I wrote about this same topic a year ago today and while there have been some amazing steps forward, it’s still not enough to create the change we so desperately need.



UTSA College of Education and Human Development

Phone: 210-458-4370