HIV-related stigma in gay and other men who have sex with men in Australia: foremost a matter of a serostatus-based sexual divide

Published: July 22, 2010

HIV-related stigma in gay and other men who have sex with men in Australia: foremost a matter of a serostatus-based sexual divide

J. de Wit1,2, D. Murphy1,3, S. Donohoe3, P. Adam1,4

1University of New South Wales, National Centre in HIV Social Research, Sydney, Australia, 2Utrecht University, Dept. of Social and Organizational Psychology, Utrecht, Netherlands, 3Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, Sydney, Australia, 4Institute for Prevention and Social Research, Utrecht, Netherlands

Background: The literature on HIV-related stigma illustrates the various negative experiences of people living with HIV (PLWHIV) and the contexts in which these occur. However, studies of stigma experienced by PLWHIV are usually not directly comparable with research exploring stigma expressed by HIV-negative or serostatus unknown people. To bring together these separate bodies of literature and provide a comprehensive assessment of the different dimensions of HIV-related stigma, we conducted an anonymous online survey that directly compared responses of people living and not living with HIV.
Methods: The Barometer Survey was open from 1 December 2009 to 31 January 2010. Over 1,350 respondents were recruited through banners on a range of websites and emails to the constituencies of HIV and gay community organisations.
The majority of respondents to the survey were gay or other men who have sex with men and analyses were restricted to this sample of 1,260 respondents; 17.0% were HIV positive, 72.6% were HIV negative and 10.4% did not know. All men answered 22 questions regarding stigma-related attributions (e.g., blame, shame), negative feelings, social distancing, and sexual exclusion that they had experienced (HIV-positive men) or expressed (HIV-negative and status unknown men). Responses were given on 5-point scales; higher scores indicated higher stigma. Stigma subscales were highly reliable (alphas .84-.90).
Results: HIV-positive men experienced low levels of stigmatising attributions (M=1.9) and social distancing (1.8). In contrast, these men experienced moderate levels of negative emotional reactions (M=2.3), and, in particular, exclusion as sexual or romantic partners (M=2.8). Stigma expressed by HIV-negative and status unknown men was highly comparable with the experiences of HIV-positive men (M=1.5, M=1.6, M=1.7, M=2.9, respectively).
Conclusions: HIV-related stigma in MSM is most tangible in the sexual/romantic domain. The ongoing adoption of serostatus-based risk reduction strategies may exacerbate this serostatus-based sexual divide in the gay community.

 

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