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Reducing your Risk for HIV

Sexual Risk:

HIV can be spread by having unprotected sexual contact with an HIV-positive person. "Unprotected" means sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) without barrier protection, like a condom. Some of the ways to reduce your risk of getting HIV through sexual contact include:
  • Don't have sex. Sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) is the main way that HIV is transmitted. If you aren't having sexual contact, you are 100% protected from getting HIV in that way.
  • Be monogamous. Being monogamous means that you are in a sexual relationship with only one person and both of you are having sex only with each other. Having only one sex partner reduces your risk of getting HIV, but monogamy won't protect you completely unless you know for sure that both you and your partner are not infected with HIV.
  • Get tested and know your partner's status: Knowing your own status is important for both your health and the health of your partner. Talking about your HIV status can be difficult or uncomfortable, but it's important to start the discussion BEFORE you have sex. You need to ask your sexual partners. If you have more than one sex partner, the CDC recommends that you be tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) every 3-6 months.
  • Use condoms consistently and correctly. To reduce your risk of getting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), you must use a new condom with every act of anal, oral, or vaginal sex. You also have to use condoms correctly, to keep them from slipping off or breaking.
  • You have to use the right kind of condom too.
    • Latex condoms are highly effective against HIV. (If you are allergic to latex, you can use polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms.) Lambskin condoms will NOT protect you from HIV, because the virus is small enough to slip through lambskin.
    • You should always use a water-based lubricant when you use a condom for anal or vaginal sex. Lubricants reduce friction and help keep the condom from breaking. Do NOT use an oil-based lubricant (like petroleum jelly, hand lotion, or cooking oil). Oil-based lubricants can damage condoms and make them less effective.
    • Both male condoms and female condoms will help protect you against HIV and other STIs.
    • Condoms do not provide 100% protection against all STIsóbut you are ALWAYS safer using a condom! You can get certain STIs, like herpes or human papilloma virus (HPV) from contact with your partner's bare skin, even if one of you is wearing a condom. But condoms lessen the risk of infection even for those types of STIs.
    • Condoms with the spermicide Nonoxynol-9 are NOT recommended for STI/HIV prevention. Nonoxynol-9 (N9) irritates rectal and vaginal walls, which increases the chance of HIV infection if infected body fluids do come in contact with them.
Drug-Related Risk:

If you are injecting illegal drugs, the best thing you can do to protect yourself from HIV is to quit. There are drug-abuse treatment services and counseling available to help you. If you can't stop injecting drugs, here are some things you can do to reduce your risk of getting HIV or transmitting it to others:
  • Never use or "share" syringes (needles), water, or drug preparation equipment that has already been used by someone else
  • Use a new, sterile syringe each time you prepare and inject drugs
  • Only use syringes that come from a reliable source
  • Use sterile water to prepare drugs, such as water that has been boiled for 5 minutes or clean water from a reliable source (such as fresh tap water)
  • Use a new or disinfected container ("cooker") and a new filter ("cotton") each time you prepare drugs
  • Before you inject, clean the injection site with a new alcohol swab
  • Safely dispose of syringes after one use