Telling Sexual Partners You're Taking HIV PrEP

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When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, in 2012, many people celebrated the opportunity to have access to a medication that could potentially reduce their chances of contracting HIV. PrEP is a daily pill that combines two antiretroviral medications–tenofovir and emtricitabine–to prevent HIV infection in people who are HIV-negative.

Using PrEP can dramatically reduce the chances that you’ll contract HIV and develop a permanent infection if you’re exposed to the virus. The medication is a game-changer for many who remember the fear and helplessness of the HIV/AIDs crisis in the 80s and 90s. But, while PrEP is an extraordinary medical advancement, there’s some stigma attached to it, especially in the LGBTQIA community. Whether you’re with a potential or long-time sexual partner, that stigma can make it intimidating to discuss PrEP. But it’s important to talk about it just like you’d discuss other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or condom use prior to sex. And in many cases, your sexual partner will be relieved and impressed by your commitment to your health. Here’s how to tackle the conversation.

Broaching the Conversation If You’re Single

Some single people worry about giving off the wrong impression if they admit they’re taking PrEP to a new partner. They might be concerned people will think they’re promiscuous. No one wants to scare off any potential partners, so it can be tricky to navigate the conversation. However, now that PrEP has been on the market for many years, its use is more and more common, and talked about quite casually. The best course of action when talking with a potential new partner is just to be honest and upfront. Whether you’re interested in a long-term relationship with someone new, or if you’re just looking for a casual encounter, if you’re taking PrEP, acknowledge it and explain why.

You can share that about 1 in 3 gay or bisexual men take PrEP, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and explain why it’s important for you to do all you can to stay healthy. In the past, you’ve probably discussed using a condom prior to engaging in sexual activity with someone new, and this conversation can be similar. You can explain that taking PrEP isn’t 100% effective at preventing HIV and it doesn’t mean you’re protected against other STIs, so you might still want to use a condom just in case. Then ask your potential partner if they have any questions you can answer. When they respond, give them plenty of time to do so and listen to them carefully. Try not to react strongly if they seem to be judgmental; they might just need time to wrap their head around the idea. Ultimately, it may reflect well on you to be proactive against HIV. People taking PrEP must see their doctors regularly for bloodwork and appointments, so showing your commitment to your health can make you even more attractive to a potential partner.

Starting a Dialogue If You’re In a Relationship

Your approach may vary slightly, depending on whether you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship or you’re in an open relationship. If you’re in a monogamous relationship, making the decision to take PrEP can bring up some questions, and you need to be prepared to answer them. If your partner is HIV-positive, they will likely understand–and even feel relieved–although you may still want to use a condom, since PrEP is only a little over 90% effective against HIV.

If you’re in an open relationship, your partner may be grateful for your commitment to protecting their health–and yours. But either way, the conversation should start with honesty on your part. Tell your partner why you’re taking PrEP and truly listen to their response. Then, it’s time to talk about boundaries and what behavior is acceptable to both parties. You’ll want to make sure you’re both in full understanding of the parameters of your relationship going forward. It might even be worth setting up a time to check in with each other on a regular basis. If need be, you can always revisit those parameters in the future.

If you’re still uncertain how to proceed with the conversation, just try to err on the side of communication. When you’re not talking about things, you might make incorrect assumptions–and your partner might, too. So, when in doubt, talk about it.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jul 17
  1. Calabrese SK and Underhill K. How Stigma Surrounding the Use
    of HIV Preexposure Prophylaxis Undermines Prevention and Pleasure: A Call to
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    Frequently Asked Questions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  5. PrEP Your High-risk Patients to Help Protect Them From HIV:
    Editorial. American Academy of Family Physicians.
  6. Talk PrEP. Centers for
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