Multi-level manifestations of sexual stigma among men with same-gender sexual experience in Ghana

Khalida Saalim, Prince Amu-Adu, Richard Panix Amoh-Otu, Ransford Akrong, Gamji Rabiu Abu-Ba’are, Melissa A. Stockton, Richard Vormawor, Kwasi Torpey, Laura Nyblade, LaRon E. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Sexual stigma and discrimination toward men who have same-gender sexual experiences are present across the globe. In Ghana, same-gender sexual desires and relationships are stigmatized, and the stigma is sanctioned through both social and legal processes. Such stigma negatively influences health and other material and social aspects of daily life for men who have sex with men (MSM). However, there is evidence that stigma at the interpersonal level can intersect with stigma that may be operating simultaneously at other levels. Few studies provide a comprehensive qualitative assessment of the multi-level sexual stigma derived from the direct narratives of men with same-gender sexual experience. To help fill this gap on sexual stigma, we qualitatively investigated [1] what was the range of sexual stigma manifestations, and [2] how sexual stigma manifestations were distributed across socioecological levels in a sample of Ghanaian MSM. From March to September 2020, we conducted eight focus group discussions (FGDs) with MSM about their experiences with stigma from Accra and Kumasi, Ghana. Data from the FGDs were subjected to qualitative content analysis. We identified a range of eight manifestations of sexual stigma: (1) gossiping and outing; (2) verbal abuse and intrusive questioning; (3) non-verbal judgmental gestures; (4) societal, cultural, and religious blaming and shaming; (5) physical abuse; (6) poor-quality services; (7) living in constant fear and stigma avoidance; and (8) internal ambivalence and guilt about sexual behavior. Sexual stigma manifestations were unevenly distributed across socioecological levels. Our findings are consistent with those of existing literature documenting that, across Africa, and particularly in Ghana, national laws and religious institutions continue to drive stigma against MSM. Fundamental anti-homosexual sentiments along with beliefs associating homosexuality with foreign cultures and immorality drive the stigmatization of MSM. Stigma experienced at all socioecological levels has been shown to impact both the mental and sexual health of MSM. Deeper analysis is needed to understand more of the lived stigma experiences of MSM to develop appropriate stigma-reduction interventions. Additionally, more community-level stigma research and interventions are needed that focus on the role of family and peers in stigma toward MSM in Ghana.

Original languageEnglish
Article number166
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes

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