The social meanings of PrEP use: a mixed-method study of PrEP use disclosure in Antwerp and Amsterdam

Thijs Reyniers, Hanne M L Zimmermann, Udi Davidovich, Bea Vuylsteke, Marie Laga, Elske Hoornenborg, Maria Prins, Henry J C De Vries, Christiana Nöstlinger

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Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a novel HIV prevention tool. PrEP stigma is a frequently reported barrier, while social disclosure of PrEP use may be an important facilitator. We explored how PrEP users managed PrEP use disclosure using a symbolic interactionist approach. We interviewed 32 participants from two PrEP demonstration projects (Be-PrEP-ared, Antwerp; AMPrEP, Amsterdam). We validated qualitative findings through Be-PrEP-ared questionnaire data. A minority of participants had received negative reactions on PrEP. The way PrEP use was disclosed was highly dependent on the social situation. In a sexual context among MSM, PrEP use was associated with condomless sex. Friends endorsed PrEP use as a healthy choice, but also related it to carelessness and promiscuity. It was seldom disclosed to colleagues and family, which is mostly related to social norms dictating when it is acceptable to talk about sex. The study findings reveal that PrEP stigma experiences were not frequent in this population, and that PrEP users actively manage disclosure of their PrEP user status. Frequent disclosure and increased use may have helped PrEP becoming normalised in these MSM communities. To increase uptake, peer communication, community activism and framing PrEP as health promotion rather than a risk-reduction intervention may be crucial.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSociology of Health & Illness
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1311-1327
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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