Gay men’s perceptions of sexually transmissible infections and their experiences of diagnosis: ‘part of the way of life’ to feeling ‘dirty and ashamed’.
Holt M, Bernard D, Race K.
National Centre in HIV Social Research, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
Background: Gay men are considerably more likely than their heterosexual peers to be diagnosed with a sexually transmissible infection (STI), yet relatively little has been published on gay men’s perceptions of STIs other than HIV. Methods: Drawing on interviews conducted with Sydney gay men, we analysed perceptions of STIs, and men’s experiences of testing and diagnosis. Results: Over half the men in the study had ever been diagnosed with an STI. STIs were generally regarded as inconvenient consequences of sexual activity. Viral, recurring STIs were viewed as being more serious than curable, bacterial STIs. However, all STIs were considered as considerably less important than HIV. Condom use and regular STI testing were the most commonly used strategies to manage the risk of STIs. Despite the relative lack of concern attributed to STIs, being diagnosed with an STI could generate feelings of shame, embarrassment and annoyance. For some men, education campaigns appeared to have helped destigmatise STIs and encourage regular testing. Conclusions: We believe that to maintain high rates of STI testing among gay men, community education efforts should continue to reduce the stigma associated with STIs and greater support should be offered to gay men when they receive an STI diagnosis.