Health Sex and sexual health Sexual Wellbeing Sexual Wellbeing: stigma People can be stigmatised for many different things. Perhaps most commonly in the LGBTQ+ community, stigma is often associated with sexual and gender identity, as well as HIV and sexual health. However, stigma surrounds lots of different things, such as ethnicity, queerness and mental health. Stigma is the negative prejudices of others of a distinguishing characteristic, whether that be gender, sexuality, race, religion, mental health or sexual health. However, sometimes stigma can be internal and there are self-imposed feelings of shame or fear. How can stigma impact us? Stigma’s effects can strike us in different ways. It can: make us anxious or depressed make us isolated or lonely impact our self-esteem make us question our self-worth make us disengage from relationships, both romantic and friendship impact our sex life negatively make us engage in sexual relationships in unhealthy ways make us feel shame There’s a myriad of ways external stigma can impact someone, which often leads to an internal struggle and a dual effect on our mental and sexual wellbeing. How can we deal with the impact of stigma? While stigmatising behaviours seem to be an insurmountable obstacle, there are things we can do to lessen its impact on us: Talk to friends – by sharing our experiences we can lessen the burden on ourselves. Allow them to support you, have your back and empathise with your experiences. It will make your journey easier. Talk to family – if you feel comfortable, share your experiences with family members. If the stigma you face is based on ethnicity for example, talking to a family member who maybe has the same lives experience might help you to navigate the negativity. Talk to peers – Find someone with the same lives experience as you. E.g. if you are struggling with HIV stigma, talk to others online or through community and support groups who have been, or who are, going through the same thing. The LBGT HERO Forums provide a safe anonymous space to seek peer support and ask questions. Talk to a therapist or counsellor – professional support is recommended if you’re finding it all a bit too much. Look for the links below to find help and support from services. Look after your sexual health – try not to let the impact of stigma have a physical effect on your health. Regular testing and knowing your status will give you peace of mind. How can we fight stigma? Stigma is unfair and unjust, so we shouldn’t have to just put up with it. There are ways we can fight it too: Challenge stigma in your life – if you hear a friend make a stigmatising comment, call them out. Perhaps take them to one side and explain in a calm and rational manner why these sort of comments hurt and are damaging. Be patient, as often people reacted defensively when called out, but if they are truly your friend, they should take the time to understand your concerns. If you see disinformation on social media, correct it. For example, if you see someone making an incorrect statement about HIV, question it, correct it, and provide evidence. Fight stigma with fact. Don’t argue or stand for being attacked. Disengage or block if you if it becomes too much, as your mental health and safety are a priority. Join a movement – there are lots of movements and campaigns dedicated to fighting stigma of different types. They can advise you on how to deal with it and provide support when needed. Help and advice For more information about dealing with HIV stigma, visit the GMFA section of our website. For help around depression and anxiety, our mental health pages provide lots of help and advice. Mind Out, the LGBTQ+ mental health service, offers a variety of support via its website. If you’d prefer to speak to an LGBTQ+ person on the phone, then Switchboard’s volunteers are also there to listen on its dedicated helpline. You can talk to people in confidence on the LGBT HERO Forums, a safe space where you can talk to peers and ask for help and advice.