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

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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”).


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.


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.


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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