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HIV Stigma

HIV stigma affects everyone. And it’s happening in Edmonton.

As seen in the Edmonton Sex Now data, in the last year more than half of HIV-positive guys had experienced sexual rejection and nearly one in four had experienced social exclusion due to their HIV status. And one study found even higher numbers for anticipated stigma, with 82% of poz guys stating that they were worried their sexual partners would reject them due to their HIV status. 1

The problem is, HIV stigma doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It doesn’t start and end on an online profile. Instead, it has a significant impact on the mental health of the poz guys in our community. Here’s a list of just some of the ways HIV stigma affects GBQT guys living with HIV:1, 2

  • Feelings of shame
  • Negative self-image
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Reluctance to disclose one’s status
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Significantly higher rates of depression
  • Poor medication adherence

And if that weren’t enough, HIV stigma has also been proven to negatively impact HIV-negative guys as well. For example, research has shown that HIV stigma can decrease testing frequency, with guys who anticipate greater HIV stigma getting testing less often. Additionally, guys who anticipated more HIV stigma were more likely underestimate their HIV risk. This is a common response to stigma, with people subconsciously attempting to distance themselves from the potentially stigmatizing experience at hand.2

HIV stigma can also lead to less effective prevention strategies. For example, serosorting, seeking sexual partners of the same HIV status, is not an easy prevention strategy to practice effectively. Based on the type of HIV test currently used in Alberta, unless someone hasn’t had sex for the three months leading up to their last HIV test it’s hard to know for 100% certain that they are HIV negative.

We also know that about 20% of people living with HIV in Canada are unaware of their HIV status. And more than half of all new HIV infections can be attributed to that 20% who are unaware of their status, while poz guys on treatment are far less likely to transmit the virus. When we looked at the Edmonton Sex Now data, though, we unfortunately saw that more than half of guys surveyed under the age of 30 indicated that they intended to use serosorting as an HIV prevention strategy in the future.

There is a way to challenge HIV stigma and its impacts, however. By educating yourself about HIV, especially recent developments in prevention, you can help to lower your risk of contracting the virus while also helping to combat HIV stigma. For example, when we looked closer at the Edmonton Sex Now data, we found that guys who better understood recent developments in HIV prevention were less likely to discriminate based on HIV status when it comes to their sexual partners.

The truth is, HIV stigma has created a divide in our community, between the poz and the negative, the “clean” and “unclean.”3 But as shown above, educating yourself can help you make better safer sex choices while also lessening the stigma faced by poz guys in our community. To increase your understanding of what prevention options are available and what might work best for you, check out our section on HIV prevention. If you’re a poz guy and are having difficulty dealing with HIV stigma, speak to someone you trust or contact HIV Edmonton at brook.b@hivedmonton.com.

  1. Smit, Peter J., Michael Brady, Michael Carter, Ricardo Fernandes, Lance Lamore, Michael Meulbroek, Michel Ohayon, Tom Platteau, Peter Rehberg, Jürgen K. Rockstroh, and Marc Thompson. “HIV-related Stigma within Communities of Gay Men: A Literature Review.” AIDS Care(2011): 1-8.
  2. Golub, Sarit A., and Kristi E. Gamarel. “The Impact of Anticipated HIV Stigma on Delays in HIV Testing Behaviors: Findings from a Community-Based Sample of Men Who Have Sex with Men and Transgender Women in New York City.” AIDS Patient Care and STDs11 (2013): 621-27.
  3. Courtenay–Quirk, Cari, Richard J. Wolitski, Jeffrey T. Parsons, and Cynthia A. Gómez. “Is HIV/AIDS Stigma Dividing the Gay Community? Perceptions of HIV–positive Men Who Have Sex With Men.” AIDS Education and Prevention1 (2006): 56-67.