It’s 2016, but gay men living with HIV still have to endure HIV stigma.

It's the third year in a row we have asked gay men living with HIV to ‘strip bare’ to tackle stigma, and it’s also the third year we’ve surveyed gay and bisexual men living with HIV about their experiences of stigma.

 This year 750 gay and bisexual men living with HIV responded and we looked to see if attitudes have changed. We found that:

  • 97% of Gay and bisexual men living with HIV believe there is still a degree of stigma associated with being HIV-positive. 
  • Gay and bisexual men living with HIV receive/see the most stigma on dating apps such as Grindr (84%)
  • Since our first HIV stigma survey in 2014, we’ve seen an increase of stigma on social media with an 8% increase at 22%
  • 3% said they face stigma in the work place 
  • About 20% face stigma in pubs/clubs.
  • Stigma has made 83% reluctant to disclose their status – up from 75% in 2014
  • 74% have received sexual rejection despite 96% of them being HIV-undetectable – meaning they can’t pass on the virus
  • 60% say their life has improved since they became positive – up from 56% in 2014
  • 62% believe living with HIV makes it difficult to be in a relationship – down from 64% in 2014

“Overall we can see that there is an increase of stigma towards gay and bisexual men living with HIV, especially on dating apps and on social media,” explains GMFA’s interim CEO, Ian Howley. “This might be down to more men being open about their status and more education about HIV and viral load is needed to reflect this. What’s encouraging is the increase of those who say they their life has improved since finding out they are HIV-positive. Many cited that it forced them to look after their health and mental health. This shows that knowing your status is important.”

Ian also adds: "Stigmatising people with HIV does not just impact those living with HIV. It discourages men from testing and accessing treatment that can save their lives and make them less likely to transmit the virus to their sexual partners. It also stops people from openly talking about HIV and safer sex. And it causes so much ignorance and fear that some people avoid sex altogether. This is not healthy. This is why it’s so important that we do our best to stop HIV stigma.”

The survey showed an increase in HIV stigma seen online, particularly through social media and dating apps, as confirmed by pornstar James Castle, 28, one of the models from the HIV Stripped Bare shoot. “I've only ever experienced stigma since publicly ‘coming out’ as HIV-positive a couple of months ago. The anonymous views and opinions of the online public are an important way of gauging where society is at with their tolerance, acceptance and knowledge. It feels we have a long way to go." 

Other responses to the survey show that HIV stigma isn’t going anywhere and is often brutal, as echoed by Dale from London: “One time I went on a date and decided to be upfront about my status. His reply was ‘I’d kill myself if I had that’.”

The impact of HIV often has an effect on people’s mental health and wellbeing. “It’s an indescribably horrible feeling,” says Chris from Norwich. “A churning, negative seething emotion that makes you feel like you are invisible, dead, no-one. Some people make you feel like you shouldn’t exist and that the community is better off without ‘your sort’.”

Every year, we get the same question, “Why are they naked?” Liam Murphy, Editor of FS explains: “This is about empowerment. It shows the world that gay men living with HIV are sexy too. Just because they are living with HIV, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve healthy, happy sex lives and relationships. For some of the models, it was a big deal to strip off and pose for a photo shoot and it represented an achievement for them by saying: ‘This is me, this is my status, I am hiding nothing’.”

Read ‘HIV Stripped Bare – Part 3: The naked truth about HIV stigma’

Read ‘This is HIV stigma 2016

Read ‘Meet the ten HIV-positive men standing up to HIV stigma’:

Read Issue #156 in full: