By Uriel Navarrete, MA and Crystal Ferrendelli, MA, clinical psychology doctoral student, Alliant International University
Navigating the discussion around HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) serostatus may pose challenges for men who have sex with men (MSM) while exploring for potential romantic and/or sexual partners. Serostatus is the state of detectable antibodies to HIV as measured by a blood test. Disclosing a seropositive status is a personal, and oftentimes difficult and shameful experience. By divulging one’s serostatus, MSM—particularly men of color—experience rejection, shame, exclusion, adverse discrimination, exposure of privacy and even crime victimization (Galletly & Dickson-Gomez, 2009). Therefore, it is important for both mental health professionals and consumers of dating applications to shift language surrounding serostatus as a way to initiate open discourse and reduce stigma of HIV-related issues.
Destigmatizing, supportive language can be utilized to bring awareness and compassion to those affected by HIV among MSM (Curry, 2015). For example, online dating consumers can implement the statement “I am stigma-free” in lieu of “Have you been tested?” or “Are you HIV negative?” Although this statement does not reveal one’s serostatus, it initiates the conversation about HIV while attempting to promote greater safety and security. In a study that examined the disclosure of serostatus, St. De Lore, et al., (2012) found that divulging one’s HIV status through online dating profiles has become more prevalent due to cyber platforms acting as a protective factor. However, for some individuals with a seropositive status, discussing HIV-related issues on an online dating profile can be challenging. By utilizing “I am stigma-free” as a disclaimer, online dating consumers can reduce the likelihood of experiencing adverse outcomes surrounding their HIV status by implementing more receptive and engaging language when interacting with other potential partners.
With a culture that encourages discriminatory thinking and behaviors, MSM often face psychological and/or physical harm by virtue of their HIV status. Therefore, it is important for psychologists to acquire further knowledge on HIV issues in a way that facilitates and promotes stigma-free communication as a beacon to patient care. Mental health professionals may implement this kind of language, not only to improve overall health outcomes, but also to create a safe space for seropositive MSM, while opposing stigmatization, discrimination and other social barriers.
The American Psychological Association has adopted a variety of HIV/AIDS-related online resources. Furthermore, the Center for Disease Control has compiled additional information for learning the basics about HIV, maintaining physical health and preventing transmission.