The impact of pre-exposure prophylaxis on sexual well-being among men who have sex with men

Amsterdam PrEP Project Team in the HIV Transmission Elimination Amsterdam Initiative (H-TEAM)

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Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a promising strategy to reduce HIV incidence among men who have sex with men (MSM). How and when PrEP is used could in part be influenced by its impact on the sexual well-being of its users. Yet, the impact of PrEP on sexual well-being has received little attention in current literature and is not well-understood. We conducted 43 in-depth interviews (June 2017-June 2018) with HIV-negative MSM who started PrEP within the Amsterdam PrEP study. We used purposive sampling to select participants who (1) reported changes on well-being indicators; (2) switched between PrEP-dosing regimens; (3) neither changed regimens nor changed on well-being indicators. Transcribed interviews were qualitatively analyzed by means of an open-coding process. Results showed that PrEP minimized HIV-related fear, increased self-esteem, and reduced stigma and shame about having condomless anal sex. The psychological relief provided by PrEP also enabled relaxation which reduced pain during anal sex. PrEP use increased the diversity of partner choices and improved the perceived quality of sexual relationships and the ability to develop relationships. Along with this positive impact, almost half of interviewees reported concurrent negative experiences. In some cases, PrEP triggered more extreme sexual behaviors and/or problematic increases in preoccupation with sex and drug use. These were perceived as having a negative impact on sexual relationships, sexual well-being, PrEP adherence, and general health. In conclusion, our findings suggest that PrEP contributes to improvements in sexual well-being that go beyond protection from HIV. Counseling strategies should be devised to help PrEP users mitigate possible co-existing negative consequences of PrEP use.

Original languageEnglish
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1829-1841
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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