World Aids Day: ‘Sex should be pleasurable and safe’, says HIV expert

Couple in bed

To mark World Aids Day on 1 December, an NHS speciality doctor in HIV medicine has spoken to PinkNews about the importance of finding pleasure in sex while staying safe and protected.

Eduardo Peres works at the John Hunter Clinic, part of Chelsea and Westminster Hospitals NHS Trust. Specialising in gender, sex and relationship diversity, he has worked part-time as a counsellor at TransPlus, an integrated trans healthcare service commissioned by NHS England, based at 56 Dean Street. He also lectures on sexual health, HIV medicine and sexology at a number of medical schools.

World Aids Day has been marked each year since 1988 and is observed by all UN member states as they show solidarity with people living with HIV today and remember those who lost their lives to AIDS.

Peres tells PinkNews that with medication and increased awareness, life with HIV looks very different these days.

“HIV is a virus and is mainly transmitted through sex or contact with contaminated blood,” he says.

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“AIDS is an advanced stage of the untreated HIV infection when your immune cells are so low that you become more exposed to other opportunistic infections.” It is important to say that those living with HIV and on adequate treatment may never reach AIDS stage and can have a fulfilling healthy life.”

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that reduce the chances of contracting HIV.

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“It protects you against HIV because it’s part of the same medications – the anti-retrovirals – that we use to avoid the virus from multiplying in your body,” Peres explains.

It should be taken before potential exposure to the virus, as a preventative treatment. It can either be taken daily or event-based and it is provided for free through NHS sexual health services for eligible patients. Those who are not on PrEP and have had condomless sex or risk exposure to HIV can be started on Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), but it needs to be started within 72 hours of exposure, and it can be provided in sexual health clinics, as well as emergency departments.

Importantly, HIV is no longer a death sentence, he reminds us.

“We do get this image of HIV that has been very widespread throughout the media, on how HIV was discovered at the beginning and how it has impacted so many communities.

“When we think of HIV, we still tend to think of those years. Nowadays, we do not consider HIV a death sentence. [It] is more likely to be a chronic condition, and those who have it can live a very long life.”

“World AIDS Day is [when] we think of ways and strategies to fight off HIV and reach the goal of stopping transmission of the virus, by [the year] 2030.

“We just need to make sure we are all approaching sexual health in a positive and affirmative way, and that we’re getting ourselves safe. And that is not only using condoms … but also getting on PrEP, discussing sexual health and sexually transmitted infections [STIs] with your partners, being open and up front about sex and knowing that sex should be something pleasurable for you.

“Going to bed worried about STIs and HIV should not be the concern if you’re taking the correct strategies to protect yourself.”

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To learn more about HIV and Aids research, testing and treatment, visit amFAR or the Terrence Higgins Trust. For more information about PrEP and sexual health, speak to your local sexual health clinic or visit getonprep.co.uk.

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