Stigma associated with sexually transmissible infection testing in an online testing environment: examining the perspectives of youth in Vancouver, Canada

Mohammad Karamouzian, Rod Knight, Wendy M. Davis, Mark Gilbert, Jean Shoveller

Sexual Health, 2018 Feb; 15(1):46-53.

BackgroundOnline sexually transmissible infection (STI) testing is increasingly available and has shown promising results across different settings. However, evidence on how stigma associated with STI testing may be experienced by youth in the context of these online services is limited.

Methods: A convenience sample of 71 youth (aged 15–24 years) both male and female was engaged through online and offline recruitment strategies in Vancouver, Canada. Through semistructured and exploratory interviews, participants were asked about their perceptions of stigma associated with STI testing in an online testing environment. Data were analysed using a thematic analysis approach.

Results: Youth came from a diverse set of sociodemographic backgrounds and most (n = 46, 65%) had previously accessed STI testing in clinic-based settings. Participants’ perceptions pointed to the benefits of online testing for reducing the external stigma despite the potential persistence of internalised stigma. Notions of hegemonic masculinity and emphasised femininity were also present in the participants’ descriptions of the role of gender in accessing online STI testing.

Conclusions: Online STI testing could potentially ameliorate the experiences of participants in regards to the stigma associated with STI testing; however, participants’ internalised feelings of shame and stigma around testing for STI may continue to persist. Our findings underscore the need to revisit and re-evaluate existing STI testing services to provide less anxiety-inducing testing environments for youth.