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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Reducing the stigma of herpes simplex virus infection: lessons from an online video contest

Lee S. Shearer A D , Lisa Simmons A , Adrian Mindel B C , Lawrence R. Stanberry A and Susan L. Rosenthal A

A Department of Pediatrics, Columbia University Medical Center – Children’s Hospital of New York at New York Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY 10032, USA.

B Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

C Australian Herpes Management Forum, Westmead, NSW 2145, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: les9041@nyp.org.

Sexual Health 9(5) 438-444 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/SH11188
Submitted: 24 December 2011  Accepted: 18 May 2012   Published: 5 October 2012

Abstract

Background: Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is one of the most common sexually transmisible infections worldwide. HSV-associated stigma negatively impacts emotional and sexual health, suggesting a need for novel approaches to reducing stigma. The aims of this study were to describe the range of destigmatising strategies used by the public in brief online videos, and to describe videos that were successful or unsuccessful in creating a destigmatising message. Methods: A thematic content analysis was performed on 103 publicly produced YouTube videos designed to destigmatise HSV infection for an Australian online contest. Results: Five destigmatising strategies were identified: providing information, normalising through familiarity, promoting disclosure, negating a negative perception and expressing moral indignation. Most videos employed multiple strategies. Regarding the degree of destigmatisation achieved, videos were coded as unsuccessful, successful, mixed or neutral. Unsuccessful and successful videos often employed the same strategies, but differed in their ability to balance positive and negative messages about HSV and to manage affective content. Some videos were successful despite not providing information about HSV. Mixed videos were appreciated differently in different contexts, and the use of humour was especially problematic. Neutral videos tended to exclusively provide information while avoiding affective content. Conclusions: Efforts to reduce HSV-associated stigma may be unsuccessful and may even perpetuate stigma. Special attention must be paid to balance and to affective content, specifically humour, when attempting to convey a destigmatising message. Doing so may help reduce the role stigma plays as a barrier to appropriate care for patients with HSV infection.

Additional keywords: HSV, media, sexually transmissible infections, YouTube.


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