Objectives To characterise the help-seeking experiences of heterosexual men living with HIV infection and explain these experiences in relation to the broader social relations and discourses in which they are embedded.
Design Qualitative study using focus groups and theoretically informed constructionist grounded theory.
Setting With one exception, focus groups were conducted in the offices of community-based AIDS service organisations across Ontario, Canada.
Participants 40 HIV-infected heterosexual men aged 18 years or older.
Results Heterosexual men living with HIV perceive themselves to be relegated to the margins of a health care and service field that was developed historically within a context that privileges the priorities of gay men and heterosexual women living with the virus. Specifically, gay men are better positioned than heterosexual men when vying for the services and recognition of AIDS service organisations due to their social capital within these agencies, thereby benefiting by virtue of their membership with the group perceived to control the decision-making apparatuses when resource allocation and programme development are at stake. Relative to women, heterosexual men are poorly positioned due to their negative symbolic capital, derived from being perceived as the ‘guilty’ parties in the context of heterosexual HIV transmission. As a result, the material and support needs of women have been prioritised, while those of heterosexual men living with HIV remain largely unaddressed.
Conclusions Heterosexual men living with HIV are operating within a health and service field that has not kept pace with their increased representation among the population of persons living with the virus. Researchers, clinicians and policy makers should strive to integrate heterosexual men living with HIV in decision making and community-based research initiatives that build capacity among this group while simultaneously generating a research and policy agenda specific to the concerns of this growing demographic.
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