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‘I was ashamed of my HIV status for many years’ – New survey finds 85 per cent of HIV stigma comes from dating apps

FS Magazine's annual 'HIV Stripped Bare' issue returns for its fifth year for World Aids Day

By Steve Brown

For World Aids Day 2018, FS Magazine’s annual ‘HIV Stripped Bare’ issue returned for its fifth year.

In a new survey of almost 400 people conducted by the magazine, they found that 95 per cent of people living with the virus still face stigma because of their HIV status and 85 per cent of the stigma comes from dating apps.

In a recent issue, FS surveyed more than 700 gay men about the HIV prevention drug PrEP – which has been hailed as one of the steps forward to reduce the number of diagnoses – and around 34 per cent of users experienced stigma because they take the drug.

While 45 per cent admitted to receiving a negative reaction on dating apps and 37 per cent said they were stigmatised by their friends for taking the drug.

Ian Howley, chief executive of Health Equality and Rights Organisation (HERO), said: “The U=U movement, and the increase of PrEP usage should in theory help the battle against HIV stigma.

“However, what we are seeing is that it’s not enough to just talk about HIV stigma and the impact it can have.

“We need to emotionally connect with gay men who hold such stigmatising views.

“We have all the scientific information which says that someone who is HIV-undetectable cannot pass on the virus sexually.

“We know that PrEP is 99 per cent effective in stopping HIV transmission – but we live in an era where emotions rule over facts.

“We need to adopt this approach and figure out how we can stop stigma towards those living with HIV, and those wanting to prevent HIV with PrEP in an emotive way.

“Over the last several years we’ve seen how our community has grown in its fight against HIV and HIV stigma.

“In 2018, living with HIV is a manageable condition with very little impact on your life or long-term health.

“But we see that having the condition can still have an impact on people’s self-worth and mental health.

“It’s by no means a walk in the park, and because of that we must do more to support those living with HIV. 

“Combating HIV stigma remains one of HERO’s main missions because we see through the work GMFA does that when we talk with people living with HIV the biggest issue they face is the stigma they receive. 

“Stigma can mess up someone’s confidence. And over time constant stigma can have a huge impact on people’s mental health.

“Our greatest challenge at HERO is getting people to a place where living with HIV and dealing with stigma does not impact their mental health. 

“If we can do that then we will win the fight against stigma and have a happier and healthier community overall.” 

For FS’s stripped bare issue, the models opened up about the stigma around HIV and PrEP.

Ant, 40, said: “Gay men can often be the worst perpetrators of stigmatising attitudes towards HIV.

“I get that you’re scared about getting HIV. But by not informing yourself of the risks, and by treating positive guys, and negative guys on PrEP, like crap, you are the problem, not us!”

James, 47, added: “I was ashamed of my HIV status for many years, until I started treatment and became undetectable two years ago.

“Since then, I have resolved to be open about my status in order to reduce stigma and ignorance.”

“I was quite aware of me carrying this unease about sex for years, but never fully having an idea how to deal with it. I have managed to conquer it by going on PrEP,” said 28-year-old Vojtech.