Christensen, J.L., Miller, L.C., Appleby, P.R., Corsbie-Massay, C., Godoy, C.G., Marsella, S.C., & Read, S.J. (2013) Reducing shame in a game that predicts HIV risk reduction for young adult MSM. Journal of International AIDS Society, 16 S2.
Introduction: Men who have sex with men (MSM) often face socially sanctioned disapproval of sexual deviance from the heterosexual “normal.” Such sexual stigma can be internalized producing a painful affective state (i.e., shame). Although shame (e.g., addiction) can predict risk-taking (e.g., alcohol abuse), sexual shame’s link to sexual risk-taking is unclear. Socially Optimized Learning in Virtual Environments (SOLVE) was designed to reduce MSM’s sexual shame, but whether it does so, and if that reduction predicts HIV risk reduction, is unclear. To test if at baseline, MSM’s reported past unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) is related to shame; MSM’s exposure to SOLVE compared to a wait-list control (WLC) condition reduces MSM’s shame; and shame-reduction mediates the link between WLC condition and UAI risk reduction.
Methods: HIV-negative, self-identified African American, Latino or White MSM, aged 18–24 years, who had had UAI with a non-primary/casual partner in the past three months were recruited for a national online study. Eligible MSM were computer randomized to either WLC or a web-delivered SOLVE. Retained MSM completed baseline measures (e.g., UAI in the past three months; current level of shame) and, in the SOLVE group, viewed at least one level of the game. At the end of the first session, shame was measured again. MSM completed follow-up UAI measures three months later. All data from 921 retained MSM (WLC condition, 484; SOLVE condition, 437) were analyzed, with missing data multiply imputed.
Results: At baseline, MSM reporting more risky sexual behaviour reported more shame (rs=0.21; p<0.001). MSM in the SOLVE intervention reported more shame reduction (M=−0.08) than MSM in the control condition (M=0.07; t(919)=4.24; p<0.001). As predicted, the indirect effect was significant (point estimate −0.10, 95% bias-corrected CI [−0.01 to −0.23] such that participants in the SOLVE treatment condition reported greater reductions in shame, which in turn predicted reductions in risky sexual behaviour at follow-up. The direct effect, however, was not significant.
Conclusions: SOLVE is the first intervention to: (1) significantly reduce shame for MSM; and (2) demonstrate that shame-reduction, due to an intervention, is predictive of risk (UAI) reduction over time.
Keywords: stigma; shame; intervention; serious games; SOLVE; HIV; AIDS; sexual risk-taking; men who have sex with men (MSM).