MSM living in hostile social environments more likely to have negative feelings about sexuality, less likely to test for HIV

Published: November 16, 2011

The largest ever international study of the sexual health of men who have sex with men (MSM), which recruited men from across the European continent, has found clear links between the social environment men live in and their own internal acceptance of their sexuality. Furthermore, men with ‘internalised homonegativity’ were much less likely to test for HIV.

These European results are to some extent confirmed by a study from the United States, which found that men living in states that are hostile to gay issues were more likely to have internalised homonegativity than men living in more tolerant states. However the American researchers found that the relationship between men’s feelings about their sexuality and unprotected sex was quite weak.

Preliminary results from both studies were presented to the Future of European Prevention among MSM (FEMP) conference in Stockholm last week.

While the term ‘homophobia’ is probably better known than ‘homonegativity’, a number of researchers prefer the latter as it does not suggest that negative attitudes to homosexuality and homosexuals are fundamentally driven by fear. Public expressions of homonegativity may include discriminatory laws, personal rejection by family and friends, violent attacks in public spaces, disapproval from religious authorities and hostile newspaper articles.

When gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men have negative or ambivalent feelings about their own sexuality, this is termed ‘internalised homonegativity’.  It has been defined as "the gay person’s direction of negative social attitudes toward the self, leading to a devaluation of the self and poor self-regard".

While it may seem obvious that negative social environments can create negative psychological states, the link between social factors at a country level and men’s internalised homonegativity has not been clearly demonstrated before.

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