'We’re from the same tribe’: Hepatitis C and intimate relationships

Stream: Living with Hepatitis
Date: Thursday, 31 March 2016
Time: 11.15 am – 1.00 pm


Introduction: Social research on hepatitis C has shown that living with this highly stigmatised disease can profoundly change the way people feel about and experience intimate relationships. To date, however, few studies have directly explored how the stigma associated with the sexualities of people who inject drugs inform and shape experiences of intimate relationships for people living with hepatitis C. Method: The paper analyses 15 in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with people who contracted hepatitis C via injecting drug use. These interviews were collected as part of a research Masters Degree project exploring hepatitis C, sexuality and intimate relationships. Findings: The interview data identified a number of ways a hepatitis C diagnosis shaped intimate relationships. Some participants, despite no longer injecting drugs, only entered relationships with other people with histories of substance use. Others only had relationships with people who had no histories of substance use, although many did not disclose their hepatitis C status. Still others had no sexual contact. Drawing on Margrit Shildrick’s ideas of anomalous bodies (1997, 2000, 2002), the paper explores how ideas of injecting drug use and the stigma associated with it directly inform the ways hepatitis C shapes intimate relationships. Recommendations: The paper suggests that the powerful symbolic and cultural associations of hepatitis C and injecting drug use need to be challenged. This is essential to producing strategies that are both effective and ethical, not least in the context of some of our most intensely valued experiences, those of sexual intimacy and meaningful personal relationships.


Emily Lenton (Presenter), Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, LaTrobe University
Emily co-coordinates the BBV Sector Development Program at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society. She has worked in research, health promotion and education in the field of blood borne viruses C for over fifteen years. Emily recently completed a Masters (Research), which examined the meanings that individuals and Australian health promotion materials draw between hepatitis C and sexuality.