As pediatricians, almost all of our clinic visits include some anticipatory guidance and recommendations on ways to promote well-being and prevent illness and injury for our patients. Because of minority stress, discrimination, and increased exposure to adverse childhood experiences, LGBTQ+ patients are disproportionately affected by certain health conditions including depression, anxiety, substance use, homelessness, as well as HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).1 While LGBTQ+ youth could benefit from additional guidance, counseling, and interventions related to these health disparities and have expressed interest in talking about these topics with their providers, sexual and gender minority youth also stress that they want to be treated as any other youth.2 Extending counseling for preventive care measures such as preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV to all sexually active youth could help to destigmatize LGBTQ+ youth as being “different” from other youth and also help to increase overall access to HIV prevention services.3
Described by some as the “birth control” for HIV infection, PrEP is taken on an ongoing basis by those who are HIV negative before potential exposures to HIV in order to prevent new HIV infections. PrEP was first approved as a daily pill for adults in 2015 by the Food and Drug Administration with extension in 2018 to all individuals at risk for HIV weighing at least 35 kg after safety and efficacy data showed it could be used routinely for adolescents.4 When taken daily, oral PrEP can decrease the risk of HIV from sexual contact by more than 90% and from injection drug use by around 70%. As PrEP is highly effective with low risk for side effects, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) gave PrEP a “Grade A” recommendation for use in those at high risk for HIV infection in 2019.5 Since efficacy is closely tied to adherence, the first injectable PrEP (given at 0, 1, and 2 months with dosing then every 2 months) was also recently FDA approved in late 2021.6
Since HIV infection disproportionately affects LBGTQ+ individuals, and particularly LBGTQ+ youth of color, counseling related to PrEP has been largely targeted to these groups.7 Insurance and financial barriers to PrEP have been greatly reduced over the past several years through changes in insurance coverage (strengthened by the USPSTF recommendation), supplemental insurance programs, and pharmaceutical copay programs. Many states (but not all) also include HIV in the definition of STIs and allow minors to consent to PrEP services without a parent or guardian. Unfortunately, despite the high efficacy of PrEP and efforts to decrease barriers, rates of PrEP use continue to be extremely low, especially in youth, with only 15.6% of those aged 16-24 who are at risk for HIV in the United States actually taking PrEP in 2019.8 Many barriers to PrEP continue to exist including lack of awareness of PrEP, stigma surrounding HIV and PrEP, and lack of PrEP providers.
In order to address these low rates of PrEP uptake, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that medical providers discuss PrEP with all sexually active patients.6 PrEP should not be seen or discussed as something only relevant to LBGTQ+ populations, but rather as another tool in everyone’s “sexual health toolbox” that can allow us to experience human connection and pleasure through sexual activity while also having more control over what happens to our bodies. Not only will this allow more patients to access PrEP directly, it will also decrease the stigma of talking about HIV and PrEP and strengthen youths’ sense of autonomy and control over their own sexual health.
Since PrEP is a relatively new medical service, many providers will need to learn more about PrEP to at least have initial discussions with patients and to feel comfortable prescribing this themselves (See Resources). Below are also some suggestions to incorporate into your practice in order to advocate for the health and well-being of all your patients, including LGBTQ+ youth.
- Once your patients are 13 years and older, spend time with them alone to confidentially discuss more sensitive topics such as sexual health, mental health, and substance use.
- For all patients who are sexually active or considering sexual activity in the near future, discuss topics to help them control what happens to their bodies including consent, condoms, birth control, PrEP, and routine STI screening.
- Recommend PrEP to anyone who is sexually active and may be at increased risk for HIV infection or who is interested in taking PrEP for HIV prevention.
- Learn more about PrEP and start prescribing it to your own patients or become familiar with providers in your area to whom you could refer patients who are interested. While no certification is needed to prescribe PrEP, programs exist to help providers become more familiar with how to prescribe PrEP.
Dr. Warus is an adolescent medicine physician who specializes in care for transgender and gender-nonconforming youth, HIV prevention for adolescents and young adults, and LGBTQ health for youth at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. He is an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and a University of Southern California faculty member.
CDC PrEP resources for clinicians: www.cdc.gov/hiv/clinicians/prevention/prep.html.Health HIV’s HIV Prevention Certified Provider Certification Program: https://healthhiv.org/programs/hpcp/.PrEP providers in the United States: https://preplocator.org/.Adolescent Health Working Group’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Toolkit for Adolescent Providers: https://ahwg.org/download/sexual-and-reproductive-health-toolkit-for-adolescent-providers/.
1. Lund EM and Burgess CM. Prim Care Clin Office Pract. 2021:48:179-89.
2. Hoffman ND et al. J Adolesc Health. 2009;45:222-9.
3. Mayer KH et al. Adv Ther. 2020;37:1778-811.
4. Hosek SG et al. JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(11):1063-71.
5. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force; Owens DK et al. JAMA. 2019;321(22):2203-13.
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: U.S. Public Health Service: Preexposure Prophylaxis for the Prevention of HIV Infection in the United States – 2021 Update: A Clinical Practice Guideline. Published 2021. Accessed July 10, 2022.
7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Estimated HIV Incidence and Prevalence in the United States, 2015-2019. HIV Surveillance Supplemental Report. 2021;26(1). Published May 2021. Accessed July 10, 2022.
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Monitoring Selected National HIV Prevention and Care Objectives by Using HIV Surveillance Data–United States and 6 Dependent Areas, 2020. HIV Surveillance Supplemental Report. 2022;27(3).