Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 197–213 | Cite as

Bridging the HIV Divide: Stigma, Stories and Serodiscordant Sexuality in the Biomedical Age

  • Asha PerssonEmail author
  • Jeanne Ellard
  • Christy E. Newman
Original Paper


At a time when advances in biomedicine have rendered people with HIV non-infectious under certain conditions, much public discourse on HIV remains stuck in a paradigm of ‘risk’, which does little to lessen the divide between people with and without HIV in society or challenge the way intimate relationships across this divide are typically stigmatised as undesirable and problematic. We rarely hear the stories of couples who live with mixed HIV statuses and how they themselves perceive and manage their so called ‘serodiscordance’. In this article, we examine such stories by mixed-status couples in Australia. In stark contrast to the dominant discourse, these couples invoked narratives of love, the everyday unimportance and manageability of HIV, and recent developments in HIV medicine, thereby challenging the way serodiscordant sexuality has been cast in public health research. Drawing on Ken Plummer’s work on hidden sexual stories, we consider not only the content of their stories, but the broader significance of stories to the world in which they are enacted, of storytelling as a rally for social and political recognition and legitimacy. Reflecting on our own role in the co-production of research stories, we argue that by moving marginalised sexual stories out of silence, stigmatised communities and researchers can conjointly and incrementally shape a new public discourse and new forms of ‘intimate citizenship’.


HIV Stigma Stories Serodiscordant sexuality Biomedicine 



Our sincere thanks to all the study participants for sharing their stories. We also wish to thank the study advisory team and the collaborating organisations: the Heterosexual HIV Service (Pozhet), the Multicultural HIV and Hepatitis Service NSW, Positive Life NSW, ACON, and Albion Centre. This study is funded by the NSW Ministry of Health and by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aging.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Standards

Ethics approval for this study was granted by the University of New South Wales Human Ethics Committee (Approval Number HC12627). Informed and written consent was obtained from all individual participants in the study. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the UNSW ethics committee, the National Health and Medical Research Council, and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Asha Persson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jeanne Ellard
    • 2
  • Christy E. Newman
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Social Research in Health, Goodsell Building, Level 3UNSW AustraliaSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and SocietyLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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