Virtual avatars as a new tool for human immunodeficiency virus prevention among men who have sex with men: A narrative review


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) continues to affect sexual and gender minorities, predominantly men who have sex with men (MSM). Stigma, medical mistrust, and apprehension towards discussing sexual health with one’s medical provider are significant barriers in seeking or accessing preventive services. Those obstacles could be surpassed through novel digital and electronic health interventions, specifically with virtual avatar technology. Avatars are digital self-representative agents that are controlled with an interactive electronic device. Avatars allow for virtual self-immersion within infinitely customizable environments to practice skill building, fostering relationships and more, through an optional incognito approach. The objective of this narrative review is to examine recent uses of and developments in avatar technology, highlight the personalization attribute of this technology, and evaluate its strengths and limitations as a tool for HIV prevention among MSM. METHODS: We reviewed recent scientific literature generated by PubMed that use virtual avatar technology in HIV prevention and treatment among populations put at risk. Articles that met the inclusion criteria were then categorized on how the avatar technology was used. KEY CONTENT AND FINDINGS: We identified eleven studies that met inclusion criteria. Avatar technology was found to create a comfortable environment for participants to address and discuss their sexual behaviors with less hesitation. Avatars can build rapport with populations put at high risk, creating an opportunity for reevaluation of their sexual behavior while assisting them in being able seek information, preventive services, or treatment for HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). CONCLUSIONS: Given the increased use of digital technology in health and prevention, avatars might be useful in sexual health education and HIV prevention among populations put at risk. The benefits and potential in utilizing this technology for HIV prevention are highlighted.


Orta Portillo GA, Fletcher JB, Young LE, Klausner JD




  • Epidemiology and Determinants of Health
    • Determinants of Health
  • Determinants of Health
    • Health services
  • Population(s)
    • Men who have sex with men
    • General HIV- population
  • Prevention, Engagement and Care Cascade
    • Prevention
  • Prevention
    • Education/media campaigns


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