Experimental Investigation of Implicit HIV and Preexposure Prophylaxis Stigma: Evidence for Ancillary Benefits of Preexposure Prophylaxis Use

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Abstract

Background:

Preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) stigma (ie, negative attitudes toward PrEP users) has been widely documented and is considered a significant barrier to implementation. However, few studies have examined PrEP stigma using implicit measures designed to reduce demand characteristics in responding. This study examined implicit PrEP- and HIV-related stigma among gay and bisexual men using geospatial social networking applications (ie, “hookup apps”).

Methods:

Participants were presented with 4 simulated online profiles (pretested for comparability) paired with each of the following characteristics: HIV negative, HIV positive, on PrEP, or substance user. Participants rated the profiles on attractiveness, desirability, trustworthiness, likelihood of condom use, and riskiness of sex.

Results:

There was no evidence of PrEP-related stigma, ie, participants did not rate profiles of PrEP users more negatively than profiles of HIV-negative individuals not disclosing PrEP use. However, profiles of HIV-positive individuals were rated significantly less attractive and desirable than HIV-negative or PrEP profiles. When the sample was split by history of PrEP use, negative ratings of HIV-positive profiles remained only among participants who had never taken PrEP. Participants with any history of PrEP use demonstrated no difference in ratings by HIV status.

Conclusion:

These data provide the first empirical evidence for lower HIV stigma among PrEP users. Individuals who have used PrEP may “see” HIV-positive individuals differently than those without a history of PrEP use. The lack of evidence for PrEP-related stigma is encouraging and suggests that negative stereotypes about PrEP users may not extend to negative implicit judgments about them on social networking sites.

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