The Democratic Biopolitics of PrEP

In Helene Helga Gerhards & Kathrin Braun (eds.), Biopolitiken – Regierungen des Lebens heute. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien. pp. 121-153 (2019)
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PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a relatively new drug-based HIV prevention technique and an important means to lower the HIV risk of gay men who are especially vulnerable to HIV. From the perspective of biopolitics, PrEP inscribes itself in a larger trend of medicalization and the rise of pharmapower. This article reconstructs and evaluates contemporary literature on biopolitical theory as it applies to PrEP, by bringing it in a dialogue with a mapping of the political debate on PrEP. As PrEP changes sexual norms and subjectification, for example condom use and its meaning for gay subjectivity, it is highly contested. The article shows that the debate on PrEP can be best described with the concepts ‘sexual-somatic ethics’ and ‘democratic biopolitics’, which I develop based on the biopolitical approach of Nikolas Rose and Paul Rabinow. In contrast, interpretations of PrEP which are following governmentality studies or Italian Theory amount to either farfetched or trivial positions on PrEP, when seen in light of the political debate. Furthermore, the article is a contribution to the scholarship on gay subjectivity, highlighting how homophobia and homonormativity haunts gay sex even in liberal environments, and how PrEP can serve as an entry point for the destigmatization of gay sexuality and transformation of gay subjectivity. ‘Biopolitical democratization’ entails making explicit how medical technology and health care relates to sexual subjectification and ethics, to strengthen the voice of (potential) PrEP users in health politics, and to renegotiate the profit and power of Big Pharma.
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