HIV and Sexuality Stigma Reduction Through Engagement in Online Forums: Results from the HealthMPowerment Intervention.
Bauermeister JA, Muessig KE, LeGrand S, Flores DD, Choi SK, Dong W, Sallabank G, Hightow-Weidman LB.
HIV and sexuality stigma impede HIV prevention and care efforts. HealthMpowerment.org (HMP) is an interactive mobile phone- and web-based HIV prevention and care intervention for young Black men who have sex with men (YBMSM; ages 18-30) in the United States. HMP included three forums where participants could share their experiences. In this study, we explored whether engaging in stigma-related discussions was associated with changes in YBMSM's stigma-related scores throughout the trial. YBMSM (ages 18-30; N = 238) participating in HMP completed surveys at baseline, and 3 and 6 month follow-ups that included a series of scales focused on HIV and sexuality (internalized homophobia; sexual prejudice) stigma. Sixty-two participants contributed to the forums (1497 posts). We coded instances where YBMSM's conversations were stigma related (915 posts, 61.1%), including discussions of anticipated (74/915, 8.1%), experienced (125/915, 13.7%), internalized (410/915, 44.8%), and/or challenged (639/915, 69.8%) stigma regarding sexuality and HIV. Using a mixed methods approach, we examined whether changes in YBMSM's stigma scores were associated with stigma-related discussions within the forum. We controlled for age, HIV status, income, and educational attainment in these multivariable models. YBMSM who discussed experiencing HIV stigma in the forums reported decreases in perceived HIV stigma over time (b = - 0.37, p ≤ 0.05). YBMSM whose forum posts indicated anticipated HIV stigma reported increases in HIV stigma over time (b = 0.46, p ≤ 0.01). Participants who challenged sexuality-related stigma in forums had lower internalized homophobia (b = - 0.68, p ≤ 0.01) at baseline. YBMSM whose discussions focused on experiencing sexuality-related stigma reported increases in internalized homophobia (b = 0.39, p ≤ 0.01) and sexual prejudice (b = 0.87, p ≤ 0.05) over time. Developing strategies to combat stigma remains a key priority. HMP created an online space where YBMSM could discuss HIV and sexuality stigma. Although a limited number of HMP participants authored the majority of these forum discussions, the discussions were associated with changes in the sample's stigma scores over time. Online interventions (e.g., social media, apps) should consider the inclusion of forums to address stigma and test the efficacy of forums to improve YBMSM's HIV prevention and care continuum outcomes.