Public health morality, sex, and COVID-19: sexual minority men’s HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) decision-making during Ontario’s first COVID-19 lockdown

Date

2021

Authors

Gaspar, Mark
Grey, Cornel
Wells, Alex
Hull, Mark
Tan, Darrell H. S.
Lachowsky, Nathan J.
Grace, Daniel

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Publisher

Critical Public Health

Abstract

Experts have warned that COVID-19 control measures may amplify health inequities among gay, bisexual, queer, and other men who have sex with men (GBM). For HIV-negative GBM, concerns have been raised as to how COVID-19 will disrupt access to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Our study offers empirical findings on these issues, drawing on in-depth interviews conducted with 25 HIV-negative GBM living in Ontario, Canada during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our thematic analysis draws from the sociology of risk to elucidate how a public health morality – a contested ethical framework determining how to be a ‘responsible’ sexual citizen during the COVID-19 pandemic – informs GBM’s sexual and PrEP decision-making. This public health morality was shaped by several factors, including: self-concern versus risks posed to others; anxiety, economic precarity, and becoming COVID-19 weary; shaming public health non-compliance; and comparisons with HIV and shaming (queer) sex. The participants significantly altered their sexual practices, with some stopping, restarting, and others stockpiling their PrEP. While some men’s sexual practices ran counter to public health messaging to avoid ‘nonessential’ contact with those outside of their households, their risk reduction strategies, including avoiding new sexual partnerships and evaluating people’s ‘common-sense’, mirrored the negotiated safety strategies earlier developed to mitigate HIV risk. Public health advice must account for the nuanced ways in which GBM are mitigating COVID-19 risks and are responding to a complex public health morality, in order to avoid stigmatization and potentially increasing COVID-19 transmission by neglecting practical risk reduction measures.

Description

Keywords

COVID-19, PrEP (preexposure prophylaxis), gay, bisexual, queer, and other men who have sex with men, sociology of risk, public health morality

Citation

Gaspar, M., Grey, C., Wells, A., Hull, M., Tan, D. H. S., Lachowsky, N. J., & Grace, D. (2021). “Public health morality, sex, and COVID-19: sexual minority men’s HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) decision-making during Ontario’s first COVID-19 lockdown.” Critical Public Health, 32(1), 116-126. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09581596.2021.1970720