Treatment Is More Than Prevention: Perceived Personal and Social Benefits of Undetectable = Untransmittable Messaging Among Sexual Minority Men Living with HIV

AIDS Patient Care STDS. 2020 Oct;34(10):444-451. doi: 10.1089/apc.2020.0137.


Research suggests that the science of undetectable viral load (VL) status and HIV transmission-conveyed with the slogan "Undetectable = Untransmittable" or "U = U"-has gaps in acceptance despite robust scientific evidence. Nonetheless, growing acceptance of U = U creates conditions for a shift in the sociopolitical and personal implications of viral suppression. We conducted an online survey over a 23-month period in 2018 and 2019 among 30,361 adolescent and adult (aged 13-99) sexual minority men living with HIV (SMM-LHIV) across the United States. We examined the impact of U = U on self-image, potential for changing societal HIV stigma, whether SMM-LHIV had ever spoken with a provider about viral suppression and HIV transmission, and primary sources of hearing about U = U. Approximately 80% of SMM-LHIV reported that U = U was beneficial for their self-image and societal HIV stigma, 58.6% reported it made them feel "much better" about their own HIV status, and 40.6% reporting it had the potential to make HIV stigma "much better." The most consistent factors associated with these beliefs centered around care engagement, particularly self-reported viral suppression and excellent antiretroviral therapy adherence. Two-thirds reported ever talking to a provider about VL and HIV transmission, although the primary sources for having heard about U = U were HIV and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) news media and personal profiles on networking apps. These findings demonstrate the significant personal and social importance of U = U for SMM-LHIV that go above-and-beyond the well-documented health benefits of viral suppression, suggesting that providers should consider routinely initiating conversations with patients around the multifaceted benefits (personal health, sexual safety and intimacy, increased self-image, and reduced social stigma) of viral suppression.

Keywords: HIV stigma; HIV transmission; men who have sex with men; sexual minority men; treatment as prevention; viral load.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Homosexuality, Male / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Stigma
  • Viral Load / drug effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-HIV Agents