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How do you talk about the wider benefits of PrEP?

Hester Phillips

16 November 2023

Having discussions about PrEP that go beyond basic HIV prevention to include topics like better sex and relationships might encourage more people to use it.

Here are some of the wellbeing benefits of PrEP and how to talk to people about them

Skills development in workshop
Photos are used for illustrative purposes. They do not imply health status or behaviour. Credit: iStock/UntitledImages

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is becoming more widely available, but uptake is sometimes lower than expected. A recent Lancet opinion piece argues that health providers and others supporting people with their sexual health should discuss, not just how PrEP will prevent  HIV but other potential benefits as well.

If you’re working to help people understand their PrEP options or supporting people to access PrEP we have put together a guide to some of the wider benefits and how you can include them in discussions on PrEP.

Reduced anxiety

One of the biggest benefits of taking PrEP reported by people in various studies is feeling less worried overall. It can be useful to draw people’s attention to this for lots of reasons. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues. It is also linked to the harmful use of drugs and alcohol, which in turn increases HIV risk. This means mentioning this could have many benefits for people.

Exploring sex with less fear

Some people who have taken PrEP report experiencing greater sexual satisfaction as they are able to have sex and explore new areas of sex without fear of getting HIV (like being the receptive partner in anal sex).

Encouraging people to work out what they need for a satisfying sexual experience is an important part of working in sexual health. But it is also important to let people know they can still get other sexually transmitted infections if they use PrEP unless they use another HIV prevention method, like condoms. When discussing this, one message that’s important to get across is that condoms and lube can be part of having great sex.

Control and empowerment

Some people at high risk of HIV lack control in intimate relationships. They might also get ignored or disrespected in health settings. But research shows that some people gain a greater sense of ownership, agency and control over their life and their health after taking PrEP. This could be very appealing to some people, especially those who feel their voice or wishes are often not heard or respected.

Feeling good about stopping the spread of HIV

Some people who have taken PrEP say it makes them feel good because they know they are doing right for themselves, for future partners and the wider community. This could be a big motivation for some people to consider taking PrEP, especially those who are community minded.

Things to think about when discussing the wider benefits of PrEP

It’s important to remember that people’s circumstances can change over time. And when people’s circumstances change, what is best for them in terms of HIV prevention may also change. That’s why getting to know people, and building trust and understanding, is key to advising them on how best to look after their sexual health.

To provide person-centred care, it’s also important to talk about the challenges associated with PrEP use. Things like PrEP-related stigma, cost, remembering to take PrEP pills or get injections, and the need for ongoing HIV testing and clinic visits are all topics you should be ready to raise.

Ultimately, the goal is not to convince someone to take PrEP but to ensure they are aware of all the benefits and the pitfalls so they can make the right decision for them.

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