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As told to Nicole Audrey Spector

In 2020, I met a man and invited him over for tea. We were attracted to one another and I was prepared to have sex with him. Once we started making out, I took out a condom. He refused to put it on, pinned me down on the bed and proceeded to have sex with me without any protection.

In the days that followed, I was horrified and ashamed, feeling that I’d helped enable the assault by getting involved with him in the first place. He texted, asking to see me again. I declined. He then started urging me to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). His tone was menacing. I kept asking him, “What do you have? What could you have passed on to me?” But he wouldn’t say. He seemed to enjoy tormenting me because I’d rejected him.

It was impossible to dig up information on my attacker. I didn’t know his last name and after our last text exchange, he blocked me. I was in the total limbo of the unknown and convinced of the worst: that I’d been infected with HIV.

I rushed to a clinic to get tested for all STIs. Fortunately, everything came back negative. But this good news didn’t erase the trauma I’d experienced. And it made me want to better protect myself from getting HIV, whether it be from another assault, a partner who was having secret sexual activity with others, or a lover who didn’t know or didn’t honestly disclose their status.

My best friend is a PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) navigator, and she gave me the lowdown on the benefits of PrEP — a highly effective medication for preventing HIV. I was familiar with PrEP, but hadn’t ever considered it for myself.

“Why don’t you start taking PrEP so you don’t have any more scares?” my friend said.

I took her up on her suggestion and went to my healthcare provider to get started. My doctor was super encouraging and supportive and saw no reason why I shouldn’t be on PrEP. In fact, he encouraged me to be on it, and I’ve been on it ever since. I plan to stay on it for the rest of my life, too. It gives me a great sense of security, protection and control over my life.

PrEP helps me feel safe not only about the possibility of another sexual assault, but also in regard to consensual relationships with sexual partners. Even in monogamous relationships, I’ve had partners stray and hide their sexual betrayals. Who knows what people bring home with them after they’ve been unfaithful? What if they aren’t using condoms or the condom breaks?

It’s inspiring to see that PrEP is commonly recommended to gay men as a way to help prevent the spread of HIV, but I wish it was also offered to everyone who’s at risk, including women. There seems to be a misconception that women — especially married cisgender women — are protected by monogamy.

I’ve worked hard to spread the message that PrEP can and should be used by every adult who is sexually active. When living in Miami, I worked in community health, helping provide hormone therapy and PrEP for high-risk women. We had a mobile clinic and parked outside strip clubs and places where sex workers tend to hang out. We’d invite them into the mobile clinic, offer them hot cocoa, load them up with condoms, help them schedule doctor appointments and encourage them to be on PrEP — offering a one-year voucher for PrEP, which can be expensive if you don’t have health insurance.

I’ve since left that amazing job to help care for my boyfriend’s aging parents. Though that is also fulfilling work, it doesn’t change my deep desire to help educate others on the importance of using PrEP. I plan to launch a nonprofit in the coming months that will provide hormone therapy and information on PrEP.

In the meantime and beyond, I encourage all sexually active women to talk to their healthcare providers about PrEP — even if they have to bring it up themselves.

I also encourage women to always use a condom when having sex. As helpful as PrEP is for preventing HIV, it does not protect you from any other STIs.

I often think of how much is asked of women by our society, and how we are not allowed to outshine men. This societal pressure can sometimes make women dependent on men. But we must shine brighter than that and keep in mind that protecting ourselves is a big part of loving ourselves so we can then love others in the healthiest ways possible.

This educational resource was created with support from Gilead.

*Last name withheld for privacy.

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Our Real Women, Real Stories are the authentic experiences of real-life women. The views, opinions and experiences shared in these stories are not endorsed by HealthyWomen and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HealthyWomen.

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