16 Mar Breaking down HIV stigma through PrEP
Since then, research has shown that HIV transmission in the UK is now most prevalent amongst heterosexuals, highlighting a need to encourage everyone regardless of gender and sexuality to consider using PrEP.
But many still don’t know what PrEP is, and there is significant stigma which deters people from accessing it.
We’re here to break down what PrEP is and the stigma surrounding it.
What is PrEP?
PrEP stands for Pre Exposure Prophylaxis. ‘Pre’ indicates that it’s something to do before the risk of exposure, and Prophylaxis is defined as a treatment or action you take to prevent disease.
In the UK, people who are HIV negative can take PrEP to prevent contracting HIV. PrEP works through forming a protective wall around the white blood cell (CD4 cell) to prevent HIV from crossing into the healthy cells and replicating, allowing the body to protect itself from the HIV virus. PrEP is approved for use and is available for free (for everyone regardless of gender and sexuality) from your local sexual health clinic.
Despite this, PrEP awareness is low among the heterosexual population, which is acting as a barrier for many who would benefit from using it to begin using it.
HIV Associated Stigma
PrEP stigma is closely linked to HIV stigma and the and the history of discrimination and marginalisation of those living with HIV.
As a HIV medication, society associates those using PrEP as a prevention method as treatment instead.
Similarly, the daily administration route is similar to HIV antiretroviral therapy; therefore, many view it as the same because of the stigma associated with pill-taking every day. As a result, many PrEP users conceal usage from their sexual partners. To normalise PrEP, we must not conflate PrEP as treatment for HIV, and view it as a preventative measure instead, by openly discussing the difference and benefits of PrEP we can help tackle stigma.
Social and Sexual Stigma
Historical stigma surrounding HIV has led to the assumption that it is a virus that only affects gay men, leading to the assumption that PrEP is only for gay men. Two Canadian studies concluded that stigma around PrEP users being presumed to be promiscuous has acted as a deterrent to people from taking it as a prevention method. In addition, people associate condomless sex or casual sex as high-risk behaviour. Therefore, causing PrEP stigmatisation due to the perception that it facilitates socially unacceptable behaviour that could lead to an individual contracting HIV. For Black gay men, PrEP uptake is lower due to structural inequalities that manifests racism outside and within the healthcare system, PrEP as a marker of their sexuality and the general stigma surrounding HIV.
To combat this, we must encourage viewing sexual health in the same way people view their general health check-ups.
Such stigma surrounding promiscuity can be experienced through institutions, preventing some participants from seeking out sexual health services.
People’s diverse ethnic heritage may already be at risk of institutional racism due to being perceived as hyper-sexual, which is linked to receiving substandard care. This highlights the importance of culturally sensitive care amongst sexual health practitioners so that those at risk feel safe enough to discuss their options with their local sexual health services.
However, the cultural stigma surrounding sexual health impacts people from marginalised communities, as they may be afraid of being seen at a sexual health clinic by other community members.
As a result, this may affect their reputation, especially if they’re from close-knit communities such as religious communities where sexual health may not be as openly discussed , or pre-marital sex may be a difficult subject? considered sinful. This is why services such as Sexual Health London are vital as they allow for discreet at-home testing, as well sites such as IWantPrEPNow, which signposts places you can order PrEP online.
If you’re interested in PrEP contact your local sexual health service listed below or alternatively click here to see where you can access PrEP in person.
Streatham Hill Centre
020 7188 7707
Camberwell Sexual Health Centre
020 3299 5000
Burrell Street Clinic
020 7188 6666
Walworth Road Clinic
020 7188 7707
The Waldron Health Centre
020 3049 3500
020 8836 6969