Sometimes, as they say, the stars align. Around the time the City of Philadelphia launched its “Keep On Loving” HIV prevention campaign, my personal journey around this topic had reached a point where I was ready to put myself out there. I had been taking PrEP — a drug that prevents HIV — for nearly a year. A lot went into my decision to take the pill daily, but my desire to be as healthy as possible and remain as sexually safe as possible ultimately won out.
Still, I was aware of the stigma that exists around individuals at risk for HIV. So in the beginning, I took PrEP quietly and waited to see how the experience was for others who were being open about taking the pill.
Sexual liberation and the assurance that you are safe should be no different. Sex is happening, and this will never change.
At the beginning of the summer, I knew I was ready to use my platform, the Hung Up podcast, and my voice to advocate for PrEP and HIV prevention. I felt confident that I could rise above the stigma. Plus, my own experience from being on PrEP has enriched my life and opened new opportunities. For generations, our community has felt limited in our sexual activities, but I now feel liberated.
I want my brothers and sisters to understand they, too, can experience this safety and liberation in their own lives. Through the “Keep On Loving” program, Philadelphians can find free, confidential HIV testing; free PrEP; and other resources. The timing couldn’t be better, because as I share my story, the individuals I inspire now have a direct line to get the support and resources they need to move ahead on their own HIV prevention journey.
Without a doubt, the availability of free and confidential resources is paramount. Conversations happen by phone or online, and discreet delivery or pickup is available. Moreover, when you look a little deeper into the City’s program, you realize its “secret sauce” is empowerment. Historically, being told what to do doesn’t work in effecting behavioral change. This is not what “Keep On Loving” is about. It gives us resources to make informed decisions, but the ultimate decision is ours. We gain access to free PrEP to protect ourselves, but it’s up to us to accept it. We are encouraged — by medical experts and our peers — to change for the better, but the decision to act lies in our hands.
You never know when something you share may influence someone to think or act differently for their own well-being.
Since I started using my voice to support “Keep On Loving” and being public about my use of PrEP, the response has been incredibly positive. For me, there is nothing more gratifying or humbling than to hear, “Yes. Thank you for talking about this.” Now, we need to keep these conversations going — in ways that are respectful of at-risk individuals opting to take PrEP as well as those who are HIV-positive and use their voice to ensure others take action to prevent getting the virus. So please talk about PrEP and your experiences, because you never know when something you share may influence someone to think or act differently for their own well-being.
Taking PrEP has taught me the value of living in the now and enjoying all that I have today, without stressing about changes that may or may not come along down the road. In so many ways, people in our society have embraced living their truth — we’re living as our authentic selves and doing daily the things that bring us joy. Sexual liberation and the assurance that you are safe should be no different. Sex is happening, and this will never change. In fact, the who, how, and why of it will only expand. Thanks to more advanced medicine and dedicated efforts, it can happen safely for all of us. Please learn more at PhillyKeepOnLoving.com.
Eric Cole M.Ed., is a Certified Life Coach and host of The Hung Up Podcast, which centers around culture, society and wellness from a Black queer perspective. He resides in Philadelphia.
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MORE HEALTH COVERAGE FROM THE CITIZENPrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, prevents HIV.