“Are you on PrEP?”
That question is common currency on men’s dating apps. In some cases, the answer figures as importantly in a profile as does height, weight and sexual preference. In the blink of an eye, it’s possible to know if a potential partner has ingested this powder blue pill that protects its taker from an HIV infection.
By Maxime Beauregard-Martin
It was a phenomenon that stunned Grégoire when he got back on the Grindr app three years ago.
“I was impressed to see that most people asked me that question directly before making plans to meet me,” recalls the 29-year-old Montrealer.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is a pill taken to prevent getting HIV. Since its approval by Health Canada in 2016, this prescription pill is increasingly popular among men having sex with men (MSM) across the country.
“Study results vary, but when the dosage is respected, we’re talking 92% efficiency,” says Dr. Marie-Ève Thériault, who practices medicine at the Quorum medical clinic in the heart of Montréal’s gay village.
Two different dosages are possible. The drug can be taken daily; or, a patient can choose to take two pills a minimum two hours before having sex, then once a day for 48 hours after sex. Taking PrEP does nothing to stop other venereal diseases, unlike wearing a condom.
Grégoire asked his doctor to make out a prescription so he would have a greater sense of security. He’s been in a relationship for seven years, but now he and his partner have started taking PrEP on a daily basis since they started opening up their couple to other sexual partners. “Even if we use condoms outside of our couple,” Grégoire says, “it’s important to us that we take every precaution. I would hate myself for my whole life if I infected my chum.”
The AIDS Crisis
The quality of life enjoyed by those who are HIV-positive has improved by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the 1980s. The “triple therapy” regimen has allowed virus carriers to register an undetectable viral load, which means they can’t pass the virus off to their sex partners. Nonetheless, memories of the AIDS epidemic persist, and its spectre still dictates many social prejudices.
“When I came out to my parents, the first thing they said is that they were afraid I’d catch AIDS,” says Felix (not his real name). “And even if my generation wasn’t around for that era, you have to recognize that it was a nightmare for those who came before us. Sure, I grew up being afraid of catching the virus.”
For three years, this thirty-something chose to take PrEP intermittently, at a more festive time in his life when his nighttime adventures were more frequent. “Several times, I had too much to drink and woke up a strange bed with someone I didn’t know, not knowing if I’d had unprotected sex,” he reveals.