This time Laura talks about PrEP’s relationship to enjoyment and sexual pleasure for women.
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.
PrEP can make sex more enjoyable. In my MobPreSH training where the incredible Angela Dennis ran a photograph and dance workshop, we started talking about PrEP’s relationship to enjoyment and pleasure. Non-barrier sex can feel pretty good, as can not having to worry about contracting HIV. Angela and the wonderful former Strategic Lead for PrEP for Women Josina Calliste helped me with a bareback comeback photo shoot with a juicy peach and a stiff banana.
Starting conversations outside the training context about barebacking was interesting. Many people asked me whether PrEP is encouraging people to have unprotected sex – similar arguments to the ones made about the pill, made available on the NHS in 1961, for married women only. The reality is, new cases of HIV in the UK had plateaued: PrEP’s arrival prompted the first decrease in new cases in years. This shows that PrEP is serving people who were not served by the relentless advice to use condoms. For some black women this can mean taking a tablet once a day when you’re not sure of your man’s HIV status or aren’t certain who else he’s having sex with or when you’re having more casual sex.
This kind of sex is often referred to as high risk. Prepster put on a film event with VITO Project screening Nothing Without Us: The Women Who Will End AIDS, Harriet Hirschon’s amazing documentary about women’s fight for HIV treatment and prevention. One thing that stuck out to me was the message that having sex on the freeway is what should be referred to as high risk: other sex is just sex.
But even without the risk talk, I found it hard to talk about PrEP without falling back on safety, efficacy, and harm reduction. It feels much easier to advocate for better health outcomes than for more pleasurable sex outcomes. I came up with a list of the barriers I was feeling.
- Pleasure is frivolous
- Pleasure is stupid
- Pleasure is a waste of time
- Pleasure is lazy
- Pleasure is not a right
- Health is more important than pleasure
- Pleasure is only important when it’s good for our health
- There are way more important issues for black people to be talking about right now
- It’s rude to talk to strangers about sexual pleasure
- Straight women will think I’m hitting on them
- Other people’s pleasure is none of my business
- Pleasure is not respectable
- People are more primed to avoid pain than seek pleasure. Unless pain is their pleasure, but people don’t want to discuss the pleasure pain continuum on the 185 with a strange woman wearing a Prepster T-shirt
I teamed up with Sh! Emporium, the London sex shop, and the amazing poet, educator, and human rights activist PJ Samuels, to host a women’s smut writing workshop. After the PrEP spiel, the first exercise PJ got us to do was list every word we could think of for sexual activities and read them out. An hour later we were cackling over freshly written erotic poetry and using our generous Sh! discount in the well-appointed store, talking about pleasure and sensation and the sensuous experience of slimy okra sliding down the throat. Me and Josina stopped for chips on the way home, taking more time than usual to enjoy them. They tasted good, and that was important.