For two years Justin* was known as a bug chaser – someone who intentionally tried to get infected with HIV. He figured he was going to get it anyway, since he never wore condoms, and was a bottom.
During that time period the 23-year-old that lives in Chicago met several positive men who were more than willing to infect him.
They didn’t succeed.
“I spent a good couple of years bug chasing. I can’t really give you a logical reason why. I just wanted to get it and get it done and over with,” he said. “I was talking to a guy online who told me had HIV. I know this sounds horrible, but I was kind of turned on by it. He said ‘If you’re going to bareback you’re eventually going to get it.’ And so that’s when I started to try.”
After a couple of friends found out about his behavior and berated him for it, their opinions eventually struck a chord with him and he started to feel ashamed of his behavior.
But just because he started to have a change of heart didn’t mean he was going to start wearing condoms.
“I’ve never been one to wear a condom. I never liked them. They’re uncomfortable,” he said.
For some unexplainable reason the “condom talk” never resonated with Justin no matter how many times, or people, told him he should use one.
And that’s when he found out about pre-exposure prophylaxis, more commonly known as PrEP when preventing HIV.
Justin now considers himself a “reformed bug chaser.”
“I want to take care of myself now. Using PrEP isn’t for me to be a whore. It’s one of the valuable options out there to protect myself from HIV,” he said. But added, “I am still going to bareback.”
He’s only been on the once a day blue pill for a couple of months. He admits that the first month he missed four to five of his doses. But said he was going to work on better adherence in the future by using sticky notes and setting alarms on his phone to remind him. SFGN caught up with him a month later when he said he had only missed one to two doses the second month.
It’s the adherence part that the AIDS Health Care Foundation has used repeatedly to attack PrEP as a bad alternative to condom use.
In the past four months AHF has released at least three campaigns attacking PrEP and the drug used for it – Truvada. The first ad was titled “PrEP Facts,” the second “CDC: What if you’re wrong on PrEP?” and most recently “What consensus on PrEP?”
But even with those seemingly anti-PrEP campaigns, President of AHF Michael Weinstein insists “we were never against PrEP. We have just been against it being used for a community wide public health intervention.”
Others though would strongly disagree.
“They’re backing off their earlier absolutism. In one press release it said ‘if we’re wrong we’ll happily admit that.’ I find that interesting,” said Todd Heywood, a veteran journalist who reports on HIV policy issues for many publications. “AHF is certainly changing the tenor of the debate. A debate it created by misinforming people about the studies. And now he is somewhat acknowledging that PrEP works.”
Local PrEP advocate Robert Shore, of Wilton Manors, also sees a subtle evolving change in AHF’s positions.
“I personally find it telling that AHF is offering a ‘give’ now. In that, rather than remaining blatantly bent on PrEP being ‘wrong’ from a public health standpoint,” he said. “They are now willing to admit they might have been wrong if it turns out that PrEP is good public health policy and does actually show inroads into decreasing HIV rates.”
But as Weinstein noted above, he nor AHF, has ever been against PrEP.
“We want people to read what we have to say and make their own decisions,” he said.