Although the balance of recent evidence supports the efficacy of antiretroviral (ARV)-based pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) against HIV-1 infection, recent negative trial results are perplexing. Of seven trials with available HIV endpoints, three different products have been tested: tenofovir 1% vaginal gel, oral tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) tablets, and TDF/emtricitabine tablets. Six of these trials were conducted exclusively in sub-Saharan Africa; all found the products to be well tolerated, and four demonstrated effectiveness. Furthermore, the HIV Prevention Trial Network (HPTN) 052 trial recently confirmed that antiretroviral treatment leads to 96% reduction in transmission to HIV-negative partners in HIV-serodiscordant couples. These results, along with human and animal data, provide substantial evidence for the efficacy of antiretroviral-based HIV prevention. Yet assessment of oral TDF/emtricitabine in the FEM-PrEP study and of oral and vaginal tenofovir in the Microbicide Trial Network (MTN)-003 trial (VOICE) was stopped for futility. How do we make sense of these discrepant results? We believe that adherence is a key factor, although it cannot be the only factor. Expanding upon a recent editorial in the Lancet, we discuss the impact of suboptimal product adherence on PrEP efficacy in the context of variable drug concentration at the exposure site, integrity of the vaginal epithelium, and the role of acute infection.