January 2016

New Years Resolutions

It's that time of year when we all get enthused about new horizons and making changes in our lives. We have lots of ideas and support across our website that might help you make some changes. Here are a few that you might have been thinking about.

If you are finding the new year and winter hard to cope with, or know someone that is, then take a look at our pages on SAD (winter blues), our information about stress or our page on how to look after your mental health.

Poppers to be banned in the UK when Psychoactive Substances Bill becomes law

Members of the UK parliament have this week debated the Psychoactive Substances Bill which will make "legal highs" (including amyl nitrates and more recent variations – better known as poppers) illegal: with a prison sentence of up to seven years possible for anyone selling them from April 2016.

Poppers are used mostly by gay and bisexual men: by relaxing someone both psychologically and physically (and for many guys heightening sexual excitement), they can make anal sex a lot easier and more fun. There are concerns that HIV transmission could increase if they are banned as guys may be less relaxed and more likely to get small tears or other damage to the anus.

An amendment was tabled which would have added poppers to the list of drugs exempted from the new legislation ... but this failed to pass. The government says it is will consider the expert advice (and a recommendation from the home affairs select committee) to exempt poppers but there is no commitment to do so and even if this does happen it won't be until after the new law comes into force.

Men's Sexual Health team member Douglas wrote to a number of MPs before the debate:

To: Theresa May MP, Andy Burnham MP, Andrew Gwynne MP, Lyn Brown MP, Jeremy Hunt MP, Jane Ellison MP, Heidi Alexander MP

Regarding poppers and the proposed inclusion in the "psychoactive substances" legislation. 

I am a Gay Men’s Sexual Health worker and I am concerned that making poppers illegal might increase the risk of HIV transmission. Many gay men use poppers to relax the anal sphincter and make anal sex easier, without poppers I fear that many men will be less relaxed, thereby increasing the micro tears and damage to the anus and therefore increasing the risk of transmission. 

Another unforeseen impact of withdrawing poppers will be an increase of men seeking help from the NHS for sexual dysfunction, another effect of poppers is extra engorgement of the penis, a stronger hardon. I would expect the criminalisation of poppers will mean these men will turning to the NHS for viagra and other legal drugs to help their sexual dysfunction.

For a drug that seems to cause very few problems to society, the health benefits are important to the sexual health of many men.

One of the MPs Douglas wrote to, Andrew Gwynne, replied to say that he had spoken in the debate and voted in favour of the exemption.

PrEP support expands

Image: GMFA
Image: GMFA

A new article from NAM details how more sexual health clinics are offering clinical support (kidney function tests) to those people who are taking PrEP purchased outside of the UK, with one clinic offering free therapeutic drug monitoring which checks how much of the drug is actually in the body. This has two advantages: it proves the drug being bought from overseas is genuine and that the individual's body is able to maintain a drug level capable of blocking HIV if exposed.

The article also offers reassurance that the Cipla generic version of Truvada, the drug used in PrEP, has been tested and approved by the FDA (american drug approval agency).

Also this week, GMFA's FS magazine surveyed over 3,100 gay and bisexual men and found:

  • 44% of HIV-negative men would not have sex with an openly HIV-positive man.
  • Up to 49% did not know what HIV-undetectable means.
  • 31% did not know what PrEP is (though when the survey explained what PrEP is, 71% of gay men said they would use it).
  • 51% were worried about becoming HIV-positive.

I have also updated my PrEP blog this week.