The incidence of HIV among heterosexual men is increasing. One of the main reasons for this is that men are having unprotected sex while on holidays. Heterosexual men can often forget that many women in other countries have HIV.
Whether men identify as straight, gay or bi, being diagnosed with HIV has a number of challenges. One of the main challenges is stigma, particularly self-stigma. How do you deal with the sense of shame from having acquired HIV?
As enlightened and open minded as we like to think we are, STI's, BBV's and HIV are loaded with a sense of shame, which is generally not associated with other health problems such as Diabetes or Arthritis.
When we do not acknowledge or work through our shame, we can start to withdraw and feel isolated and alone. Loneliness exacerbates feelings of worthlessness and depression. Before we realise it, we can end up with major depression, feeling nothing is worthwhile and keeping people at arm’s length. Most of us aren’t good at talking about stuff, particularly personal stuff. We think it is easier to bottle it up or push it out of our mind. When things get a bit “hairy” and emotions are close to the surface, we think having another drink of alcohol will help numb things for a while.
Yet the sense of shame continues to eat at us. We feel we can’t talk to our mates because they might think we had been having sex with a guy. We might not be able to tell our partner because then she would know we had been having “a bit on the side”. If you are single, then it is constantly negotiating the dating scene and whether you should disclose or not and how will you be perceived.
Part of the process of dealing with shame and stigma is removing the sense of isolation and aloneness. It is removing the sense of “I have a secret” to “Iike many people, I have an illness in my body that I can learn to live with and enjoy a fulfilled life”.
HIV is not about whether you are gay or straight, it is about:
- Learning the facts - having an undetectable viral load means you cannot transmit HIV to anyone else.
- Knowing you are not alone - there are other men, straight and gay, who are HIV positive living successful, engaged and fulfilling lives.
WA AIDS Council provides a Peer Support program for men living with HIV, whether they identify as straight or gay. For further information, please phone 9482 0000.