Are ARV Drugs Making People Less Cautious About Safe Sex?

Daily HIV medication on spoon

“Treatment as prevention” has proven over time to be the single most effective method of reducing the spread of HIV. There are two aspects to this: One is for HIV+ individuals to take the appropriate antiretroviral medications (ARVs) to maintain a low viral low, reducing their odds of passing on the virus. The other is for HIV-negative people to take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as a way to block any invading HIV cells from reproducing and causing an infection.

But with HIV becoming increasingly preventable, is there any cause for worry? Will people’s sexual habits become less careful as they rely more and more on ARV drugs? And what kind of problems could arise from that behavior?

Are People Being Less Cautious?

Antiretroviral treatments have undergone substantial improvements over the past few decades, becoming increasingly effective and sophisticated. Pre-exposure prophylaxis in particular is quite new, but studies have shown it to be very effective when used appropriately.

The scientific community is still collecting evidence on how PrEP and ARV medications may be affecting people’s sexual habits. Because they are still quite new, there are quite a few gaps in the data, and it can be hard to get honest answers when asking people about their sexual behavior.

That said, so far at least it seems that people using PrEP may actually be more careful about their sexual habits – five separate studies so far have shown a trend that people who take control of their sexual health by taking antiretroviral medications for treatment or prevention of HIV may also be more likely to protect themselves in other ways.

A New Tool, but Not an Entire Toolbox

The important thing to remember about ARV drugs is that they’re just one method of HIV prevention. They are not totally fail-proof; there is always the potential of viral mutation and adaptation, for example, or the risk of a missed dosage reducing the drug’s effectiveness. Additionally, antiretroviral drugs will only protect against HIV – other sexually transmitted diseases will not be affected.

As always, the best bet is to practice safe sex with multiple methods of protection – and if the data so far is representative of the trends, people are doing exactly that.