My PrEP Story: Bastian (part 2)

Bastian’s second MPS is about getting tested and finally beginning his PrEP journey but sadly the pandemic stopped him from using it, he also talks about what needs to be done for sexual health to improve in Italy.

My PrEP Story is the personal voice of people who are using, or have used, PrEP, and those who have been at the forefront of providing it and advocating for it. Find out more about their decisions to use PrEP, how they have navigated using PrEP, and their very own PrEP journey.

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After finally deciding to take control of my sexual health and take care of myself, I had my first appointment with Milano Checkpoint, a community-based organisation that provides free HIV and STI testing and sexual health information. It is known for having one day a week dedicated to PrEP where you can speak to a doctor about it, get it prescribed so you can buy it and organise follow up appointments. I was warmly welcomed in a friendly and non-judgemental way and they told me everything I need to know about PrEP. In Italy, before starting PrEP, you will be tested for HIV and all other STIs, you will also have three sessions with a psychologist, and lastly you will be given advice and support on how to buy and take PrEP.

Back in March just before the lockdown started here in Italy, I had all my tests done and at last I finally bought my batch of PrEP for €60 from a pharmacy in Milan. This was unfortunate timing because I was really looking forward to using PrEP and seeing what effect it would have on my sex life as well as my mental health, like I have seen it has in others. Sadly, I spent the entire lockdown not having any sex whatsoever. Not only that but the pandemic affected my family and I in horrible ways. Although, it was so frustrating having to stay at home and see my unused and unopened boxes of PrEP, they represented hope – that one day in the future I wouldn’t have to be at home all the time and that eventually I would be free to have sex and live my life as normal again.

The lockdown eventually came to an end and I had a few sexual encounters. A result of being in the lockdown for so long changed the way I have sex, so I decided to take PrEP in the event-based way rather than daily. Being a sexual health activist is more than just taking a pill or having condomless sex; to me it means being aware of my sexual desires, how I manage them and how I use my experiences to helping others. It means putting myself forward alongside other PrEP users in Italy, starting public debates about sexuality and freedom in the queer community here. It’s so important to inform people about all the different tools available today that prevent HIV and it’s important to do our part to reduce HIV stigma wherever we can. Putting an end to HIV must be more than just telling people to use condoms on World AIDS day. We also desperately need to fight to have free PrEP available on our national health service. 

The veil of shame and alleged sin that covers sex here needs to drop. Shame and stigma are what cause high rates of HIV and STIs. If people feel ashamed of the sex that they’re having or who they’re having sex with they won’t get tested. We must create an open space where every single person, despite their sexual identity, sexual orientation or gender can feel free to express themselves however they see fit.

There is still a long way to go but it could start with a pill.

— Bastian