Over the 30 years since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, we’ve seen many advances in prevention and treatment.
However, to this day, we still see high levels of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, even from within the gay community.
Perusing online profiles on popular cruising sites, we can commonly see language like “only clean guys” or “drug and disease free,” meant to immediately reject any potential approaches by HIV positive men, likely in hopes of reducing their risk of acquiring HIV.
To get a better understanding of the views about how gay men broach the issue of HIV in sexual contexts, research was conducted by the National Centre for HIV Social Research. It showed that there is still a great deal of stigma in the areas of sex and relationships.
Up to half of HIV negative men say they refuse to have sex with someone who they know is HIV positive. This is creating an environment where HIV positive men find it difficult to disclose their status because of fears about adverse consequences. It may also lead to gay men being hesitant to get tested for HIV.
There is an increased perception of responsibility on HIV positive men with three-quarters of gay men expecting disclosure of HIV-positive status before having sex.
In contrast, less than half of men expect HIV negative men to disclose their HIV status.
To start a level of community discussion around this issue, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) recently developed and launched a national education campaign called Fear Less Live More which encourages gay men to communicate more openly about HIV in sexual settings.
Fear Less Live More differs from most HIV-related campaigns, in that its main focus isn’t around prevention, testing or treatment, but rather covers five specific areas: communicating about HIV status; choosing casual sex partners; acknowledging concerns about HIV; negotiating relationships where one partner is HIV positive and the other HIV negative; and overcoming fear of rejection.
A dedicated campaign website allows users to generate their own content, and share messages with their friends through social media outlets. Launched nationwide on December 1 2011, to coincide with World AIDS Day, Fear Less Live More continues to have a presence online and to encourage gay men to start talking more openly about the issues related to HIV in sexual settings.
It’s not too late to make a statement, and show that you will fear less and live more.
By JASON ASSELIN, VAC