Impact of Social Shaming May Result in Greater Risk for HIV Infection

A study released in July by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh concludes that “early socialization experiences of gay [and bisexual] men can be deeply stigmatizing,” and the resulting psychosocial health problems could put them at greater risk for HIV infection. The study showed that these men were more likely to use illegal drugs and to engage in risky sexual behaviors in adulthood. Both are considered to heighten the risk of HIV infection.

HIV Counseling Program Coordinator Keville Ware, LCSW, says the study results – which were presented at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna – are not surprising. “Many of the people we see have struggled with and are dealing with social stigmas that go way back to their childhood.”

The study looked at information collected by the U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, involving more than 1,000 gay and bisexual men going back to 1983. Some were HIV+ and some were HIV-. What they found was that “almost 10 percent of the participants had been victims of childhood sexual abuse, and nearly 30 percent had been the targets of gay-related victimization between the ages of 12 and 14, including verbal insults, bullying, threats of physical violence and actual physical assaults.”

Ware says that it’s not easy for someone to reach out for help, since many gay and bisexual men still feel stigmatized by their sexual orientation, in addition to the stigma of being HIV positive. According to Ware, “Our society still stigmatizes mental health care, creating yet another barrier when it comes to someone seeking therapy.”

Montrose Counseling Center provides GLBT-affirming individual, couples and group therapy for persons who are HIV+, along with prevention and case management services. For more information, visit our website or call 713.529.0037 to schedule an intake.