Updated: Apr 30, 2019
So I'm closing out Sexual Assault Month and STD Awareness Month with Naughty by Nature (not really) by empowering black women to take control of their sexual health by getting immediate STD screenings following any concerning sexual activity, but especially after sexual assault. Even though there is no 100% guaranteed way to prevent being raped (despite all of the rape prevention info out there), there is medication that can at least allow you to take control of your own sexual health.
Previously, I've discussed Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP which is the daily pill designed to prevent HIV before the actual exposure happens (click here to revisit the PrEP blog post). In an emergency situation, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis or PEP is an antiretroviral medication (medication taken by people living with HIV/AIDS) after potentially being exposed to HIV to prevent from being infected. Anyone in need of PEP have up to 72 hours (3 days) to access it which means the earlier the better. For example, if you've been sexually assaulted on Friday, you have until the following Monday to access PEP. Depending on the medication chosen by your health care provider, you will be taking PEP in the form of one or two pills for about 28 days.
Who should take PEP?
If within 72 hours (3 days) the following has happened:
- Had condom-less sex with someone living with HIV/AIDS (This includes anyone who are even rumored to be living with HIV/AIDS).
- Been sexually assaulted
- Had condom-less sex with someone of unknown HIV status (This means you did not ask about their HIV status nor the last time they have been tested for HIV).
- Exposed to HIV during your health care job duties
What are the side effects of PEP?
PEP has very little side effects including nausea that are not life-threatening and can be easily treated.
Where can I get PEP?
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, feel free to head to your local emergency room; a trusted health care provider; a local Planned Parenthood for referrals; or a sexual health clinic to be examined. In the case that you are too afraid to report the encounter right away (which is very common), please at least get your PEP medication within 72 hours to prevent being infected by HIV. You would do this by simply stating that you have potentially been exposed to HIV during recent sexual activity. Unfortunately, there has been a history of stigma in the healthcare system against black women accessing care. Being a true advocate for your own health is vital for your survival so under no circumstances should you accept "NO" as an answer to accessing PEP and any other STD services.
How do I pay for PEP?
If you were successfully prescribed PEP specifically after a sexual assault, you may qualify for partial or total reimbursement for any medications and medical visit costs through the Office for Victims of Crime, funded by the US Department of Justice. (Click here to find specific information for your state.)
If you are a health care employee who was exposed to HIV during your job duties, your workplace health insurance or workers’ compensation program will typically pay for PEP.
If you needed PEP for other reasons and you are uninsured or your insurance won't cover PEP, ask your health care provider to apply for medication assistance programs provided by the manufacturers.
Can PEP replace condoms and PrEP?
Absolutely not! PEP is used exclusively for emergency situations. People who continue to seek PEP after frequent condom-less sex, are most often advised to take PrEP. As mentioned before with internal condoms (click here for a refresher on condoms) those of us in unhealthy relationships or situations that involve more frequent sexual assault should look into PrEP instead of PEP as a preventative measure.
As a reminder, PrEP and PEP can only prevent HIV so routine STD screenings are still extremely important for your sexual health, especially after sexual assault.
Here is an awesome video by Planned Parenthood (also located in the "Info > Resources" tab of the Cupcake Noire website) about PEP.
Lastly, medication is obviously just one of many game plans to survive and heal from a rape encounter, not the only one. Seek other assistance and services that are right for you. Unfortunately there are sexual traumas that we don't have any control over. It is times like these that we must take back our own sexual narratives and begin healing for more autonomous and pleasurable sexual experiences. With the help of condoms, PrEP, and PEP, this is highly possible.
I'm going to leave you with none other than the Destiny's Child "Survivor" video, because those of us who have been sexually assaulted refuse to be referred to as victims but rather survivors! "I'm a survivor! I'm not gon' give up! I'm not gon' stop! I'm gon' work harder"... to sexually heal!
Out with Mammy, Jezebel, and Sapphire...In with Cupcake Noire!