Is Taking a Pill After Getting It On Unprotected the Future of Safer Sex?
For a long time, condoms have been a fact of life for people who want to engage in safer sex.
Unless you’re comfortable rolling the dice on possibly getting a sexually transmitted infection — and let’s face it, some people do make this choice — if you want to be confident a hookup won’t leave you with an unpleasant infection, a high-quality condom is the best approach.
However, it’s no secret that, given the option, people tend to prefer condomless sex. There simply hasn’t been a good, reliable way to have unprotected sex without running the risk of an STI — let alone of creating a pregnancy.
But in recent years, certain aspects of those fears have been addressed in meaningful ways by non-condom solutions — at least for men who have sex with men. The gay community’s relationship to HIV transmission has been completely changed by the arrival on the market of PrEP, short for pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily pill that radically lowers your chances of contracting HIV.
PrEP has so significantly altered the HIV transmission landscape that HIV transmission is now more likely to happen between heterosexual partners than gay partners in Scotland, per a 2023 study.
However, as with Tinder following the launch of Grindr, technological developments that have impacted gay men’s love lives may now be on the verge of revolutionizing straight people’s as well.
That’s because of the development of a so-called “morning after pill” for STI prevention. In order to better understand how this could impact the future of sex, AskMen spoke to a couple of experts, as well as reviewing the existing news on the subject. Here’s what we learned:
The Development of an STI “Morning After” Pill
At the moment, there’s only one product on the market — DoxyPEP.
“DoxyPEP is a post-exposure preventative treatment for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea,” says Dr. Laura Purdy, MD, chief medical officer at Wisp, which produces the treatment. “Similar to the traditional morning-after pill that’s taken to prevent unwanted pregnancy after unprotected sex, DoxyPEP can be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex to stop the spread of certain sexually transmitted infections.”
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“While Doxycycline has been commonly used to treat multiple types of bacterial infections,” Dr. Purdy adds, “expanding the use cases for this existing drug is an important step in providing sexual wellness solutions for those who have engaged in sexual activity and are concerned about STI risks.”
In short, Doxycycline is nothing new — what’s new is the idea of using it as post-exposure prophylaxis for STIs. What we’re seeing is a paradigm shift, first and foremost, rather than a scientific breakthrough.
It’s a shift that’s occurring in part because STI transmissions have not gone away — quite the opposite. Dr. Purdy notes that data shows that STIs are “currently on the rise in the U.S, with syphilis cases at the highest levels in 70 years.”
“This troubling trend is being exacerbated by a penicillin shortage (a key drug in treating syphilis),” says Dr. Purdy. “In addition to being able to treat chlamydia and gonorrhea, this new offering is vital to filling the gap in treatments available for syphilis, given the nationwide shortage of penicillin.”
How the PEP Pill Could Impact Your Sex Life
So what do the short-term and long-term impacts of a pill like this being available look like? Of course, no one can predict the future, so that’s hard to say with certainty. Avril Clarke, sexologist and intimacy coordinator at Erika Lust, however, sees the availability of PEP options as a good thing.
“The development of PEP will lead to more positive benefits when it comes to people’s sex lives,” says Clarke. “Barrier methods of contraception, like condoms, were and still are the only way to protect oneself from the transmission of STIs and HIV during sex.”
RELATED: How to Diagnose and Treat Syphilis
However, she says, the introduction of PEP into the marketplace doesn’t mean it’s time for a sexual free-for-all where everyone starts having as much condomless sex as possible with zero consequences.
“Through proper comprehensive sex education, it’s important to debunk the myth that having an option like PEP will lead to riskier sexual behaviors,” Clarke says. “PEP comes with side effects and long processes that, although groundbreaking in the fight against HIV/AIDS, need to be taken regularly for 4 weeks.”
“Checking in with a doctor before and after going through the process is crucial,” she adds. “Additionally, depending on your location, it is not always available for free or at a low cost, and often causes harsh side effects, including nausea, rash, headaches, and fatigue. The financial, emotional, and physical distress that might come from needing to take PEP should not be overlooked.”
As well, despite its potential for reducing STI transmission, however, it’s important to note that, per Dr. Purdy, “DoxyPEP doesn’t protect against Mpox, HIV, herpes, or other viral infections,” or parasite-based infections like crabs.
Still, there remains reason to be optimistic about the potential of post-exposure prophylaxis.
“While it remains important to follow safe sex practices, DoxyPEP has the potential to offer an important preventive solution for those who are sexually active,” says Dr. Purdy. “By introducing a morning-after pill for STIs, Wisp is helping combat the rise of sexually transmitted infections by providing an accessible and affordable nationwide offering.”
Only time will tell, but PEP may yet represent a significant change in the way we approach safer sex.
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