Errors in Judgement? Lessons on Slipping-up, Solidarity and Technology from MSM Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Users and Non-Users in Ontario

Adam Christianson, M.A. in Sociology at Carleton University


Pre-exposure prophylaxis or “PrEP,” is a cluster of methods that keep HIV-negative persons from contracting the virus. PrEP allows members of “high risk” communities an effective form of immunity against the virus. Though highly effective, PrEP is in conflict with established safer-sex practices. I contrast the accounts of PrEP users and non-users, discussing how HIV-risk, safer sex and condom use are shifting as a result of this novel prophylactic. I examine the recurring notion of “slipping-up” and discuss how PrEP interferes with notions of responsibility, intimacy and contagion. Despite a shared optimism for PrEP, the uneven take-up of PrEP is leading to divergent perspectives on HIV-risk, sexual responsibility and desirability, where notions of what constitutes a mistake or dangerous sexual act is no longer shared between men who have sex with men (MSM). Both users and non-users express a fear of accidentally slipping up, a notion that is connected to the legacy of AIDS as a gay disease deep-seeded in the history of the HIV epidemic and the day to day lives of MSM. Resistance to PrEP and optimism for PrEP lies in how the drug conflicts with these taken for granted attitudes, traditions and norms. This project underscores the importance of the role of everyday technologies in underpinning the social and political perspective of divergent yet similar groups.