Managing stigma in adolescent HIV: silence, secrets and sanctioned spaces

Cult Health Sex. 2011 Mar;13(3):267-81. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2010.525665.


HIV is conceived as a disease that combines stigma elements of perceived contagion and socially undesirable behaviours. Drawing on in-depth interviews with professional adolescent service providers from Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA, this paper explores HIV stigma and stigma management in the lives of HIV-positive young people. Findings elucidate how additional layers of stigma relating to 'adolescent rights' and 'embodied innocence' are added to HIV stigma as it is more usually conceived. This study suggests that managing this stigma entails managing silence in the context of the social worlds of the young person, the family and the service provider. Silence emerged as a key theme in the participant narratives and was embedded in the descriptions of young people's lived experiences. Crucially, silence is a product of oppression and inequity but is also a tool for resistance. Silence defends secrets and exists in the spaces, both physical and social, that are created for them in order to manage the stigma in young people's lives. Silences associated with HIV therefore need to be exposed if we are to better understand what HIV truly means to seropositive young people and how 'silences' may minimise or exacerbate their experience of HIV stigma inside and outside the context of programmes.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Australia
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • North America
  • Prejudice*
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • United Kingdom