Is PrEP right for me?
If you’ve ever thought you've been exposed to HIV, you might have also experienced the worry that can come from not knowing if you acquired it.
Apart from being damaging to our mental health, worrying about HIV can foster a fear and stigma. Some might argue that fear has kept many of us free of HIV, but now there’s a healthier way to do it.
Imagine knowing you’re protected from HIV all day, every day. Suddenly you’re not scared of getting it and you’re not scared of the people who have it.
It’s possible and it’s called PrEP.
PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a way to prevent HIV that combines using prescription medicine with frequent sexual health testing.
PrEP allows you to take control of your own health and protection against HIV. It works around the clock regardless of the choices you make and it's available across Australia now.
If you’re already sure PrEP is right for you and would like to join an estimated 18,000+ people in Australia currently using it, you can discover how to get it in the Access PrEP section. Otherwise, continue on to help you figure out if PrEP could be right for you too.
The PrEP program
You might be surprised by how easy it is to take control of your sexual health. It all starts with a visit to a doctor or sexual health centre.
Once you’ve had routine tests to confirm you're HIV negative, you’ll get a prescription for three months' supply of PrEP. From there it’s as straightforward as taking PrEP as advised for as long you choose to be highly protected against HIV.
If your chance of coming in to contact with HIV alters over time, there’s the option to stop and start again. If you'd rather not take a pill every day, on-demand PrEP is a way to be highly protected for one-off encounters or short periods instead. Discover more about different ways to use PrEP in the Use PrEP section.
To top up your pills, it’s back to the doctor three months later for another straightforward check-up and your next prescription.
Of course, using PrEP is much more than just taking pills to prevent HIV. With support from your doctor, PrEP offers a complete program for managing all aspects of your sexual health, including comprehensive STI testing and the opportunity to check in about any health matters every three months.
Possible side effects
Although some people might think PrEP is quite new, the medicines used in PrEP are safe, effective and have been around a long time. Since circa 2004, they've been used as part of treatment regimes for people living with HIV, so their effects on the body are well understood.
As is the case with using any medicines, there could be side effects. But not everybody gets them and the small number of people who do are often surprised by how uneventful they are and how quickly they go away.
There’s a small possibility you might experience very mild symptoms such as a brief stomach upset, tiredness or nausea for the first few days, though none of these stay for long. Some people have reported vivid dreams or restlessness for a short time too. Even if you do experience anything, taking PrEP after a full meal can often help avoid any temporary side effects when first starting PrEP.
A very small number of people have experienced challenges with kidney function and bone density while using PrEP, typically because of pre-existing medical conditions or other health factors. As a precautionary measure, your doctor will regularly monitor these for you. These particular side effects are uncommon and known to reverse when discontinuing PrEP.
PrEP is a very well tolerated drug with minimal side effects. Start a conversation with your doctor about these or anything else you might be curious about, or ask the online community in the PrEP'D For Change Facebook group.
Over the years, condoms have been great at doing what they’re designed to do. There’s no denying they've helped bring the HIV/AIDS epidemic under control. Yet what they haven’t done is eliminate new HIV transmissions, which is where PrEP comes in.
No matter how you feel about using condoms, if one doesn't get used, it can't offer you any protection against HIV. And in the heat of the moment the decision to pause and put one on can sometimes slip by the wayside.
PrEP doesn’t require on-the-spot decision making and gives everyone the opportunity to take control of their own health. The benefits are huge for receptive partners, as they don’t have to rely on someone else making the choice to protect them.
Importantly, PrEP and condoms are fully compatible, so you can choose to use them together to maximise your protection against HIV. Whether you're considering changing the way you have sex or not, PrEP still offers extremely effective HIV prevention with or without condoms.
PrEP is only for preventing HIV, so it doesn’t protect against other STIs such as syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia or hepatitis C. Some people find once they've reduced their anxiety around HIV they might worry more about acquiring other STIs, but here's the deal...
If you haven't been using condoms or dams for oral sex, there’s always been a chance of getting an STI. While condoms remain the best way to help prevent STIs, they don't eliminate the risk of them. It's still possible to acquire STIs even if you use condoms every time, which is why regular testing is important. If you choose not to use condoms for penetrative sex, your risk of acquiring STIs increases.
Thanks to modern medicine, common bacterial ones are straightforward to cure. A short course of antibiotics and any symptoms are usually gone within 24 hours, and you’re in the clear a week after finishing treatment.
Remember too that PrEP is a program involving routine STI testing every three months. Those tests will identify any STIs quickly, reducing the likelihood of passing them on to someone else or being an inconvenience to you.
So while PrEP is for preventing HIV, choosing a PrEP program now could mean you’re managing STIs more responsibly and more often than ever before.
However you access it, PrEP is only available to purchase with a prescription. Wherever you live in Australia, you can access PrEP through any doctor or sexual health centre.
Although any registered doctor or sexual health nurse practitioner is able to prescribe it, not all might know about PrEP just yet. To help you locate clinics known to prescribe PrEP, we've created an interactive map in the Find PrEP section.
If you have access to Medicare you can use your prescription to buy PrEP from any local pharmacy in Australia. Any pharmacy is able to dispense PrEP, though not all might have it in stock at all times. It's best to contact your preferred pharmacy and check in advance as it might take a few days to order in for you.
Whether you do or don't have access to Medicare, you can use your prescription to order PrEP from an online pharmacy, importing up to three months’ supply for your own use in any single shipment.
To help you understand your options, the Access PrEP section provides a comprehensive guide covering all circumstances.
Thanks to the Australian Government, since April 1, 2018, PrEP is a subsidised medicine on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). This means if you have access to Medicare, buying PrEP in any Australian pharmacy will cost you no more than $41.00 for one months' supply, or $6.60 with a concession.
For anyone with access to Medicare, a three for the price of one offer for PrEP is also available by mail order from a group of Australian pharmacies.
Whether you do or don’t have access to Medicare, prices start from around $20 per month when buying online for personal importation.
If you can’t afford PrEP for any reason, financial assistance to get free PrEP may be available through community schemes.
The Buy PrEP section includes information on all buying options, a monthly price comparison, how to apply for free PrEP, and details on accessing the three for one offer anywhere in Australia.
If you'd like to understand more about PrEP, there are several ways for you to get support.
As well as starting a conversation with your doctor or sexual health centre, you can connect with thousands of other PrEP users online at the PrEP'D For Change Facebook group. Alternatively, get in touch via our contact form.
PrEP'D For Change is Australia's largest online PrEP community, supporting people in their choice to use PrEP since 2015. You can discover more about us in the About section.