Stigma and Sexually Transmitted Infections: Are attitudes towards people with sexually transmitted infections as punitive as they are perceived to be?
Ellen Mulholland, Health Adviser
University Hospital of Hartlepool,
Hartlepool TS24 9AH
Tel: 01429 522577
If the research work is complete, when was it completed?
Summary of research topic
Previous research has identified perceptions of social stigma as a main barrier to attendance for sexual health screening. Although published research surrounding the psychology of social stigma in relation to common sexually transmitted infections is lacking, a wide body of evidence has accumulated suggesting that only a minority of people hold highly negative views of people suffering from HIV, within which gender differences have been found (eg Yong & Miller 1993).
This is in direct contrast with the felt stigma of those infected (Green 1995). As negative attitudes among the general public towards stigmatised people are important sources of enacted stigma, the current study employed a simple survey design to investigate participants own attitudes towards people with STIs in comparison to their perceptions of others attitudes and to identify any attitudinal differences between genders.
30 (15 male/15 female) members of the general public were invited to complete a two-part likert style attitude questionnaire, adapted to investigate attitudes towards people who have STIs.
A series of t-tests were performed and the results indicate that:
- A significant difference exists between participants own positive and negative attitudes (t = 8.706; df = 29; p = .000; < 0.05) indicating an overall liberal attitude towards people suffering from STIs
- A significant difference exists between participants perceptions of the general public’s attitude and their own, with the general public’s attitude perceived as generally more negative (t = 3.238; df 29; p = .0015; < 0.05)
- No significant differences were found between males and females
As the participants essentially form part of the general public, and social stigma is proposed to be a manifestation of social standards (Goffman 1963), these findings appear counterintuitive.
This raises questions regarding why the general public perceive others to hold negative attitudes towards STI sufferers when they themselves don’t, and how has such a viewpoint become stereotypical. Further research is required to investigate this phenomenon.