The Relationship Between Internalized HIV Stigma and Risky Sexual Behavior [1N]

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HIV stigma marginalizes HIV-infected individuals from society. Twenty-five percent of people living with HIV are women. Because stigma and discrimination could impact the willingness of a person to disclose their HIV status to their sexual partner; it would be valuable to know how much stigma is associated with unprotected sexual behavior in women and the willingness to disclose their status.


Data were collected through Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WIHS), a longitudinal cohort study started in 1993 of women living with HIV (WLWH) or at risk for HIV, with questions asked from April to October 2015. The relationships between HIV stigma and risky sexual behavior were analyzed using Wilcoxon rank-sum test.


Among 2022 participants, 1654 (70%) were HIV positive and 453 (20%) of participants were legally/common law married. Of the HIV + participants, 389 (18%) reported engaging in risky sexual behavior defined as unprotected vaginal or anal sex. There was no statistically significant relationship between HIV disclosure rate and engagement in risky sexual behavior (p=0.119). However, those who were married reported engaging in risky sexual behavior more often than those not in committed relationships (p<.001). No relationship existed between internalized stigma and disclosure or risky sex.


Increased internalized HIV stigma was not found to correlate with engagement in risky sexual behavior and disclosure rates amongst WIHS participants. The level of commitment among married participants may influence behavior and risk acceptance. Further analysis of viral loads, partner serostatus and disease duration in these participants is needed.

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