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Men-loving men and a male doctor talk to each other about PrEP over the heads of women.

When It Comes to PrEP, Women Need to Be Part of the Conversation

National advertising campaigns for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) have mostly targeted men who have sex with other men. However, our 2019 HIV In America Survey shows that younger, heterosexual women should be part of this messaging too.

What is PrEP?

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a prevention approach used to reduce the risk of HIV infection. PrEP is available as a daily pill and a long-acting injectable. PrEP can only be used by people who are currently HIV-negative. PrEP is recommended for people with an increased risk of acquiring HIV. Women at increased risk of acquiring HIV may do any of the following:

  • Have anal or vaginal sex without using a condom
  • Do not take PrEP
  • Share needles or syringes

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Women at high risk of HIV

Among the women who answered our 2019 HIV In America Survey, nearly 8 out of 10 said that they have unprotected vaginal sex. Four out of 10 women report having unprotected anal sex. Most women had heard of PrEP, but 91 percent had never used it, pointing to the need for more education and messages focused on younger women.

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Their reasons for not using PrEP included:

  • Currently not sexually active (26 percent)
  • Worries about side effects (21 percent)
  • Do not know where to get PrEP (86 percent)

Previous experiences with PrEP

Almost 1 in 4 said they wanted to start taking PrEP. Of those who had taken PrEP in the past, 1 in 3 stopped taking it because they could not afford the drug. Everyone who had taken PrEP in the past did so because they had a partner who was living with HIV. Most have friends who take PrEP now or have in the past.

The survey made it clear that family doctors play a critical role in women’s sexual health. Nearly 9 out of 10 said their doctor talked to them about the risk factors for HIV transmission, about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and other ways to reduce HIV risk.

About the 2019 HIV In America survey

Of the 227 people who answered this part of our survey, two-thirds, or 66 percent, were women who said they engaged in high-risk activities. Two-thirds of these women said they were heterosexual, meaning they had sex with men.

These women were also:

  • Black/African American (69 percent)
  • White/Caucasian (23 percent)
  • Single (51 percent)
  • Had children (56 percent)

Six out of 10 were working full time and earned less than $55,000 (73 percent). A majority had a high school diploma, GED, and some college or vocational training.

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The HIV in America 2019 survey was conducted online from July through September of 2019. A total of 627 people completed the survey.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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