HIV Debate: Is “Undetectable” The New Black?


There are a number of drugs that are currently being used to fight the HIV virus, while researchers are also testing the effects of new drugs in aims of preventing it. But are people abusing these as an excuse to have unprotected sex? People have speculated that the use of PrEP/Truvada (HIV prevention drugs) will only encourage gay men to be more promiscuous. While others claim that regardless of that possibility we shouldn’t be turning our noses up at something that is going to help reduce numbers of HIV+ men in the gay community.

Though these preventative medicines are still being tested, ones that dramatically reduce the risk of passing on HIV are able to make its positive user “undetectable”. What that means is that the amount of the virus in a person’s blood (their viral load) is reduced to the extent that the virus is ’suppressed’. Making the chances of passing HIV on – even without a condom – near to none (96%). While recent studies have shown that PrEP is effective of up to 92%.

But when one guy encourages bareback sex because he’s undetectable, while another replies “I’m on PrEP” when you ask where the condoms are, I can’t help but question the mindset that a number of individuals have adopted since the drugs have become available. Obviously, these drugs – no matter how you look at it – are helping our community, that goes without saying. But surely, these are means of extra precautions, not a reason to become relaxed with protection. And it’s not just a person here or there, more people (from personal experience, and from friends) are beginning to use this as a justification to have unsafe sex.

Sure, it’s an amazing thing when a person’s viral load is undetectable, and it means that the risk of them passing HIV on to the next person is extremely slim, but what about forwarding other STIs? But not just passing them on, receiving them too? This can surely still cause further problems. Viruses such as hepatitis, syphilis and a new violent strain of gonorrhea (that has reportedly hit the UK), are gonna fuck you up no matter what your status.

Similarly, the guy who’s on PrEP that thinks he has a free pass the fuck everyone without a rubber can still catch and pass on diseases. Not to mention the fact that the testing of PrEP is not yet finished – although the results do look *ahem* positive. Although these drugs are amazing and decrease the window of HIV transmission dramatically, I think it’s important not to lose sight of why they were invented in the first place; and it wasn’t for a free pass to abuse the privilege of protection that they offer. So, regardless of if you’re on PrEP, when someone asks where the johnny’s are, the answer should be “in the bedside drawer”. And while being ‘undetectable’ is a brilliant step to ensure one’s own and others safety, it doesn’t mean the reward for taking your meds is to dice with fate.

While they are making headway in the means of progress, we shouldn’t let our attitudes towards our health slip. These drugs can do the world of good for discordant couples, maintaining health and ensuring back-up when you do make a mistake; but they shouldn’t be used to encourage reckless behaviour.

Author: AnthonyGilet

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