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Prevalence and correlates of sexual concerns and associated distress among women living with HIV in Canada

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Allison Carter
  • Rebecca Gormley
  • Marvelous Muchenje
  • Denise Zhu
  • Sophie Patterson
  • Mary Kestler
  • Catherine Hankins
  • Carmen Logie
  • Lori Brotto
  • Wangari Tharao
  • Melanie Lee
  • Jenny Li
  • Erin Ding
  • Alexandra De Pokomandy
  • Mona Loutfy
  • Angela Kaida
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/01/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Women's Health
Number of pages19
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date28/01/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Objectives: We assessed the prevalence and correlates of sexual concerns and associated distress among women living with HIV in Canada.

Methods: We analyzed cross-sectional survey data from the Canadian HIV Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health Cohort Study (2017-2018). Self-identified women living with HIV were asked about sexual concerns post-HIV diagnosis and associated distress (none, mild, moderate, severe). Five areas of concern were assessed, including difficulties related to sexual self-esteem, sexual function, relationships, and emotional and behavioral aspects of sex. Logistic regression analyses identified correlates of reporting any sexual concerns and severe distress about these concerns.

Results: Of 906 participants (median age 48, Q1-Q3 = 41-55), 596 (65.8%) reported sexual concerns post-HIV diagnosis. We found a high prevalence of concerns related to relationships (43.3%), sexual self-esteem (49.4%), and emotional aspects of sex (45.4%), relative to sexual functioning (38.4%) and behavioral aspects (33.7%). Of those with sexual concerns, 36.7% reported severe distress. Reports of severe distress were the highest for relationship difficulties (32.5%), relative to other areas of concern (21.4%-22.8%). In adjusted analyses, women reporting sexual dissatisfaction and high HIV-related stigma had significantly higher odds of reporting sexual concerns. Conversely, those reporting higher resilience, better mental health, African, Caribbean, and Black identity, and sex as somewhat unimportant, not at all important, or neutral to their lives had lower adjusted odds. Factors associated with severe distress about sexual concerns included older age, body dissatisfaction, sexual dissatisfaction, and high HIV-related stigma, while better mental health and getting support from someone living with HIV were protective. While 84.4% of women had discussed with a provider how viral load impacts transmission risk, only 40.6% had conversations about sexual wellbeing.

Conclusion: More attention to women's sexual wellbeing within social and relational contexts is critical to ensure the sexual rights of women living with HIV are upheld