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‘PrEP Diaries’ author talks controversy, slut shaming, and how it’s more than just a “party drug”

Ask author Evan J. Peterson and he will tell you: He loves writing about sexuality.

“Sexuality is so much more than attractive people helping each other [get off],” Peterson declares to Queerty. “You know, there is the politics of sexuality, there’s the people who get denied a sexuality in the media. I love writing about sexuality and investigating it.”

Related: PHOTOS: PrEP marketing campaigns get homoerotic. It’s about time.

Such a statement makes sense for the 35-year-old author from Seattle. Peterson is about to release The PrEP Diaries, a comically engrossing memoir exploring his experiences with sex, hooking up, love, and–you guessed it—that revolutionary little blue pill called PrEP.

But it seems with every revolution comes controversy. Read any comments section on the web, and you’ll find that PrEP has been called everything from a godsend to a “party drug” to even “fake.”

Related: Does Not Being On PrEP Make A Guy Less Desirable?

Queerty sat down with Peterson to discuss his book, the stigma surrounding PrEP, and his thoughts on condomless sex.

A lot of people may label this as “That one PrEP book.” But it actually articulates great, empowering themes of self-care, sex-positivity, and taking control of your own health. Was this always your intention when writing it?

I had a lot of things in mind. I definitely thought a lot about my privileges as a white person, a cis-gender person, someone who lives in a very liberal city with access to healthcare. I wanted to talk about things [beyond] just taking a pill and how that affects my sexual practices and dating practices. I knew this was a platform I could use to talk about self-care, reducing shame, sex-positivity… I made an agreement with myself that I would make the book very honest and very sex-positive and that this was a good thing for the world.

You talked a lot about this in the book obviously, but talk to me about how you discovered PrEP and what led you to want to take it?

The earliest memory I have of seeing the term PrEP was on this guy’s Scruff profile, and so I talked to him and asked him questions. He [turned out to be] a health care professional, a gay man and someone on PrEP so I thought, “Well this is the perfect person to ask about all this.”

He just answered all the questions of mine that he could and I started thinking, “You know, this would be a really good thing to get on.” Plus, I had an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV-positive guy at the time, and I wanted more peace of mind around [that]. My rational mind knew that, if someone is undetectable, the chances of transmission are remarkably low. But underneath that were those thirty years of superstitious thinking that sex is going to kill you, and you have to do whatever you can to prevent that.

One thing you mention in the book, which I thought was super interesting, was that much of the stigma surrounding PrEP–and the shaming around taking it–comes primarily from other gay men. Talk to me about that.

Well, I think we pick up shame. As queer people in general, I think we pick up shame first from things like the community, families, church, school, etc. and then we start internalizing that and pointing it toward each other. The tremendous majority of the shaming I see comes from queer people against other queer people, and in general, queer men. I don’t hear a lot of lesbians or queer women or even transwomen saying, “Oh, well you should just use a condom.” I don’t know what it is about women letting other people mind their own business and men not. Maybe it is a privilege thing. [Laughs]

Why do you think that is? Why all the shaming?

It is just learned. It is internalized and then we externalize it toward each other. What I figured out is that the people who are so critical of PrEP are people who seem to be afraid of themselves, and what they could become [if they took PrEP]. Often, I see comments on the Internet [of people complaining about not wanting to do certain things.] so it’s like, okay, well don’t do that. It is like, if you are anti-abortion, don’t f—ing get one! If you think PrEP is a bad thing, don’t take it. And maybe don’t f–k people who take PrEP [if you are against it], it will significantly reduce your dating pool, and people who are available to you, but if that is your choice, honey, do it.

[Laughs] Well I actually looked at some of our coverage on PrEP and the comments people were leaving, Some say it’s a “party drug” or that folks only “use it as an excuse to bareback.” I think one commenter even called it a “fake drug that creates a false sense of security.” How do you react to those?

Well those people are living in another reality. This is not a fake drug, this is a remarkably successful drug, and we can see that statistically – not just in the laboratory, but seeing how many tens of thousands of people are on it, and how exponentially few people have contracted HIV while on PrEP. What I say in the book is, “It is not fool-proof, so don’t be a fool when you are using it.” And people saying it is a party drug? Party drugs get you high, end of story. And people saying it is just an excuse to bareback? Well, it is a great excuse to bareback! What’s wrong with barebacking? If people want that freedom to have comdomless sex, PrEP is a great tool to cover at least HIV.

I know you interviewed a lot of people for this book. Have you a noticed at all a difference in opinion among generations or ages?

Oh, absolutely. Older queer men, guys in their 50’s and 60’s, tend to think that this is a miracle, and they think anyone who doesn’t use it is stupid. If you buried half your friends in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you tend to think that [such a drug] is miraculous. It is a lot of the younger guys, in their 20’s and 30’s who are like, “Well, this is a drug for sluts!” Well, yeah, it is a drug for sluts, and everybody else.

Yeah, that is interesting to me; why are people, especially young people, criticizing it if there are so many benefits to taking it?

The statistics are there. Even if a person does not trust a lot of corporate pharmaceuticals, like me, the statistics are there. There are so many people on this drug and it is keeping people safe in remarkably high numbers.

So, obviously a lot more people use PrEP than say two years ago. I guess my next question is, what now? What do you see the future of PrEP being?

I live in Seattle, where PrEP is a pretty big, known topic among queer men–not so much among straight people, but I see it growing in people’s understanding. I think we’ve going to start seeing it talked about in sex education.

I think the medical education community is behind in educating nurses about PrEP. When I talk to people in medical school, often I hear them say, “Oh yeah, I think I heard something about PrEP.” In fact, one of my friends who is a nurse actually heard about PrEP from other gay people before hearing about it in medical school, and that’s a big issue. Though, I see it becoming a lot more normalized.

We have talked so much about PrEP as a drug for other people, but what does PrEP mean to you personally?

It is a great thing. It gives me so much peace of mind and confidence, both of which makes for better sex. [Being on it] means I never have to worry about HIV being a factor in whether or not I form a relationship with another person, I don’t have to worry about it scaring me out of sex or doing certain things.

Final question, your book comes out very soon. What are you most excited about?

I want to be a voice that helps people make confident decisions about their health care. I want to be someone who can lead other people into being more sex-positive. A friend of mine referred to me as a thought leader, and I was thinking, “Yeah, it is great to be a thought leader, and it is also great to be a heart leader.” I want to inspire people to be braver and kinder to each other. And more than being a thought leader and a heart leader, I also want to be a dick leader. You can print that!

[Laughs] Deal! Anything else you’d like to add?

I had a great time writing this book. It was very scary to be that vulnerable in my writing. I think any criticism I get will be far outweighed by the amount of people I can inspire to be kinder to themselves and others.

Pre-order The PrEP Diaries via LethePress HERE. It will be available on Amazon and other retailers starting May 1.

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14 Comments

  • NateOcean

    What does “exponentially few” mean? Just wondering.

    • ChrisK

      Seems like an oxymoron since exponentially means growing or increasing.

  • ChrisK

    He’s right about that. There was or is an age difference on the level of acceptance. Sites like JMG which scews older it has been accepted. Only one very vocal troll has a problem with it. Then you have Queerty which skews younger where you still have too many of the very vocal slut shamers.

  • Richard 55

    PrEP is for losers. Seattle is full of these people. If you need to add unnecessary, unnatural chemicals to your body, you will lose out in the long term.

    By the way, what is wrong with slut shaming? It’s a useful means of preventing people from falling victim to their excesses.

    Good interview, by the way.

    • Heywood Jablowme

      I prefer prude-shaming. Running everyone else’s sex lives must be exhausting for you! Yeah, yeah, we get it, you’re not getting much sex so you’re jealous! Talk about a loser.

  • natekerchel

    I don’t understand the comment ‘ PrEP is for losers’ – in what sense is this meant? There are many instances where we use ‘unnatural and unnecessary’ chemicals to our bodies – PARABENS (food additives) for example are found throughout the food chain and are associated with cancer, BPA is found in many things from food cans to dental fillings and can cause heart disease and impotence.
    I have never used PrEP myself, but it seems to me to be a perfectly sensible precaution if you prefer to have a less restrictive sexual life-style.
    ‘Slut shaming’ is not something I would want to indulge in. In the first place, other people’s sexual practices are their own business. If I am worried about anything I can ask a potential partner appropriate questions and then decide if I want to have sex with them. It is not for me to make ‘moral’ judgements about their activities. ‘Slut-shaming’ began as a way for straight men to abuse and control women. Now it has moved into the realm of gay men doing the same thing to other gay men. We all have a choice about the people we have sex with – we should not be trying to deprive other people of their choice because we don’t approve. We have enough people who would criticise and bully us based on their ‘morality’ – we should not also be doing it to each other.

  • Donston

    I’m not a “slut shamer”. I had a couple “slutty years” myself (with dudes, women, trans people. Yet, oddly enough when I’m in a relationship I have always had completely monogamous instincts). However, I don’t see why there’s often so much pride in admitting to sleeping with a bunch of people or pride in having unprotected sex with a bunch of people (which is a different thing) or pride in living a life of excess. It is what it is. It’s the choice you made. No need to glorify or justify it.

    However, there’s definitely a problem with many gay men lacking self-worth, lacking identity and motivation beyond their sexual behavior and sexual identity and using sex (and in some cases drugs) as a way to feel wanted or to feel apart of the world. That to me is a bigger issue than shaming.

    • Heywood Jablowme

      “However, I don’t see why there’s often so much pride in admitting to sleeping with a bunch of people…”

      Nobody, or almost nobody, actually takes “pride” or brags about that in real life. But they (we) do get viciously attacked for it in real life by those who are aware of the person’s past. Even if the slutty era was a long, long, long time ago! Apparently there’s no “statute of limitations” on attacking someone for a slutty past, decades ago.

      In online comments, this plays out more defensively and abstractly.

    • Heywood Jablowme

      To get a little more specific, I think you are taking somewhat of a blame-the-victim approach (although you’re not nearly as bad as some I’ve seen posting here!).

      As you describe, these behaviors mostly have roots in low self-esteem, a dismal adolescence where the guy learns almost no social skills, etc. etc. (All of which I can identify with, although I avoided most if not all of the drug problems.) And what is the person supposed to do about that, later? Everyone says “settle down” but that’s easier said than done because they get rejected, attacked and derided for having a slutty past. You have identified the problem, perhaps, but what’s the solution? Many or most gay male teenagers are going to go through hell in middle school & high school; that’s just the way it is, maybe forever.

      Anyway, I think there is a very large contingent of young gay men who ARE psychologically healthy but just enjoy playing the field while they’re young. They too will start to want to settle down, usually in their late 30s (that’s been my observation) but then they deal with the same discrimination by the Superior People.

    • Donston

      I had sex and relationships primarily with women and trans women until I was 22. I had no real sexual attraction to women of any kind, but did it because I wasn’t certain if I could love a man and because I didn’t want to feel “not apart” of world. Then came those couple “slutty years” when I was ready to embrace my orientation but still felt lost at sea. So, I have first hand experience and have met many people whose sexual behavior seems to be entirely driven by low self-esteem and/or warped egos. I never got into hard drugs however.

      I think part of the solution is acknowledging there’s a problem. Many LGBTQ identifying people and much of gay media refuses to do that. It’s become all about “everyone embrace everyone”. And not enough or, really, any emphasis at all is put on mental health, internalized homophobia and self-destructive behavior. Hardly anyone acknowledges ego, narcissistic, megalomania driven sexual behavior and identity (which is a particular issue with many bi/fluid/queer/etc identifying males) and the frequent identity theft. Everyone just sticks their heads in the sand and are expected to line up. It’s why I’m feeling more separated from the “movement” than ever.

      I’m not idealistic. I know nothing will ever be anywhere near perfect. But the lack of focus inward is doing no one any good.

    • ChrisK

      Ha. Can’t believe were analyzing sluts. How about just boys will be boys.

      Yes it comes with allot of mental baggage but everyone goes through it. Most of us come out of it eventually. Sometimes I wish I could go back to my slutty days 70s style. Armed with PrEP this time around. Wow. That would be some magic.

  • natekerchel

    I kind of agree with Haywood about the tendency to be judgemental about other people’s sex lives. We live in a more sophisticated and educated society and so tend to look for all kinds of emotional/mental reasons for certain behaviours. For the most part this is fine and can explain many situations. But there is one thing we seem to have forgotten in all our sophistication – we are at root animals. We have ditched most of the animals instincts that we had – or at least managed to disguise them. But sex is one of the most basic animal instincts that we retain. The question I am asking is this – is it not possible that people who indulge in lots of sex with different partners are merely following their ancient instincts? Maybe it is not always about being insecure or lacking self-esteem or substituting sex for real love.
    I have no problem with what other do in their sex lives – it is none of my business. We often criticise those who attack us for being too interested in what happens in our bedrooms – but we are doing the same thing. Some gay men often have more in common with straight men than they realise in terms of control and abuse. ‘Slut shaming’ is a good example of this.

    • Donston

      Of course you can enjoy sex with different partners and not have mental issues. That was never my point. And as I said, I’m not into slut-shaming, though what slut-shaming actually is has been greatly contorted as of late. It’s just that the desperation to accept and embrace has often led to people wanting to ignore a lot of disturbing tendencies and patterns. And believe me, everyone gets shamed about something. The “sluts” will be alright in that regard.

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