Is PrEP right for you?
If you’ve ever thought you've been exposed to HIV, you might have also experienced the worry from not knowing if you got it.
Besides being damaging to our mental health, worrying about HIV can foster a fear and stigma. Some argue that fear kept many people free of HIV, but now there’s a healthier way to stay safe.
Imagine knowing you’re protected from HIV. 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 regular sexual health testing.
PrEP allows you to take control of your own health. It protects against HIV regardless of the choices you make and it's available across Australia now.
If you already know PrEP is right for you and would like to join thousands of people using it, head to the Start PrEP section. Otherwise, continue on to help 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 using PrEP for as long you choose to be protected against HIV.
Daily or periodic PrEP provide round the clock protection all day, every day. If your chance of coming in to contact with HIV alters over time, it's possible to stop using PrEP for a while and start again. If you'd rather not take a pill every day, on-demand PrEP is a convenient way to maximise your protection for 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.
Using PrEP is more than just taking pills to prevent HIV. With support from your doctor, PrEP is a complete program for managing your sexual health, including comprehensive testing and the chance to discuss any health matters every three months.
The medicines in PrEP are safe, effective and have been around a long time. Since around 2004 they've been used as part of treatment for people living with HIV, so their effects on the body are well understood.
As is the case with using any medicine, there could be side effects. But not everybody gets them. The small number of people who do may be surprised by how uneventful they are and how quickly they go away.
There’s a small chance you might experience very mild symptoms such as a stomach upset, tiredness or nausea for the first few days. None of these stay for long. Some people report vivid dreams or restlessness for a short time too. If you do experience mild side effects when first starting PrEP, taking your pill after a full meal may help avoid them.
A very small number of people have experienced challenges with kidney function and bone density while using PrEP. This is typically due to pre-existing medical conditions or other health factors. As a precautionary measure your doctor will regularly monitor your health while using PrEP. These side effects aren't common and are known to reverse when discontinuing PrEP.
PrEP is a very well tolerated medicine with minimal side effects. Start a conversation with your doctor about these or anything else you'd like to know. You can also ask Australia's largest online PrEP 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. But what they haven’t done is eliminate HIV transmissions. This is where PrEP comes in.
However you feel about using condoms, if one doesn't get used it can't offer any protection against HIV. In the heat of the moment, the decision to interrupt the flow 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 health. The benefits are huge for receptive partners who no longer have to rely on someone else's choice to manage their protection.
Importantly, PrEP and condoms are fully compatible with each other. Using them together combines protection against HIV as well as most STIs.
Whether you are or aren't considering changing the way you have sex, PrEP offers extremely effective HIV prevention with or without condoms.
PrEP is only for preventing HIV, so it doesn’t protect against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia or hepatitis C. Some people find once their anxiety reduces around HIV they might worry more about acquiring other STIs, but here's the thing...
If you haven't been using condoms or dams for oral sex, there’s always been a chance of encountering STIs. While condoms remain the best way to help prevent STIs, they don't eliminate the risk of them spreading. It's still possible to get STIs even if you use condoms every time, which is why regular testing is important. If you choose to not use condoms for penetrative sex, your risk of getting STIs increases.
Thanks to modern medicine, common bacterial STIs are straightforward to cure. With a short course of antibiotics any symptoms are usually gone within 24 hours and you’re typically 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 them spreading to others or being an inconvenience to you.
While PrEP works to prevent HIV, choosing a PrEP program now could mean you’re managing STIs more responsibly and more often than ever before.
Wherever you live in Australia you can access PrEP through a doctor or sexual health centre. However you access it, PrEP is only available to purchase with a prescription.
Although any registered doctor or sexual health nurse practitioner is able to prescribe PrEP, not all might know about it just yet. To help you locate health services known to prescribe PrEP, we've created an interactive map in the Find PrEP section.
If you have Medicare you can use your prescription to buy PrEP from a local pharmacy in Australia. Any pharmacy is able to dispense PrEP, though it might not always be in stock. Check with your preferred pharmacy in advance as it might take a few days to order in for you.
Whether you do or don't have Medicare, you can use your prescription to order PrEP from an overseas online pharmacy, importing up to three months’ supply at a time.
To understand your options, the Start 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 Medicare, buying PrEP in any Australian pharmacy will cost you no more than $30.00 for one months' supply, or $7.30 with a concession.
For anyone with Medicare, discounted PrEP is also available by mail order from a group of Australian pharmacies.
Whether you do or don’t have Medicare, prices start from around $20 per month when you import PrEP from an online pharmacy.
If you can’t afford PrEP for any reason, free PrEP is available through assistance schemes.
The Buy PrEP section includes information on all buying options, a price comparison chart, how to apply for free PrEP, and details on accessing discounted PrEP anywhere in Australia.
If you'd like to know more about PrEP, support is available.
Start a conversation with a doctor or sexual health centre, or connect with thousands of 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. Discover more about who we are in the About section.