Background: Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) uptake has lagged among US women. PrEP stigma is a recognized barrier to uptake among men who have sex with men but remains largely unexplored among women. This study examined the pervasiveness of PrEP stigma among US women and its implications for uptake.
Setting/methods: In a 2017 online survey of Planned Parenthood patients drawn from the 3 cities with the highest numbers of new HIV infections in Connecticut, 597 heterosexually active, HIV-negative, PrEP-inexperienced women reported background characteristics, 2 dimensions of anticipated PrEP stigma (PrEP-user stereotypes and PrEP disapproval by others), and 3 indicators of potential PrEP uptake (interest in learning more about PrEP, intention to use PrEP, and comfort discussing PrEP with a provider).
Results: Participants commonly perceived PrEP-user stereotypes, with many believing that others would regard them as promiscuous (37%), HIV-positive (32%), bad (14%), or gay (11%) if they used PrEP. Thirty percent would feel ashamed to disclose PrEP use. Many participants expected disapproval by family (36%), sex partners (34%), and friends (25%). In adjusted analyses, perception of PrEP-user stereotypes was uniquely associated with less comfort discussing PrEP with a provider. Expected PrEP disapproval by others was uniquely associated with less PrEP interest, less intention to use PrEP, and less comfort discussing PrEP with a provider. Exploratory moderation analyses suggested that intention to use PrEP was greatest when participants anticipated low levels of both PrEP-user stereotypes and PrEP disapproval by others.
Conclusions: Findings highlight the need for positive messaging targeting potential PrEP users and their social networks to increase PrEP acceptance and uptake.