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HIV is spread through semen, vaginal fluids, blood, and breast milk. Protect yourself by using condoms every time you have sex, and don’t share needles with anyone. You can also ask your doctor about PrEP — a daily pill that helps prevent HIV.

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How do I avoid getting HIV during sex?

HIV is spread through contact with blood or sexual fluids (like semen and vaginal fluids), usually during vaginal and anal sex. So the only 100% certain way to avoid HIV is to not have vaginal or anal sex.

But most people do have sex at some point in their lives, so learning about HIV prevention and knowing how to have safer sex is important. Using condoms REALLY lowers your risk of getting HIV. If you’re going to have sex, using condoms every single time is the best way to protect yourself from HIV. There’s also a daily pill you can take — called PrEP — that can help prevent HIV. Your doctor or nurse can tell you if PrEP is right for you.

Some sexual activities are safer than others when it comes to getting HIV. These activities are “no risk” — they’ve never caused a reported case of HIV:

  • masturbating

  • touching your partner’s genitals

  • rubbing your bodies together (dry humping)

  • kissing

  • having oral sex with a condom or dental dam 

  • using clean sex toys

These activities are “lower risk” — they’ve only caused a few reported cases of HIV (out of millions):

  • "French” or deep kissing (if the person with HIV has sores or bleeding in their mouth)

  • vaginal sex with a condom and/or PrEP

  • anal sex with a condom and/or PrEP

  • oral sex without a condom or dental dam

These activities are “high risk” — millions of people get HIV this way:

  • vaginal sex without a condom or PrEP

  • anal sex without a condom or PrEP

It’s easier for HIV to get into your body if you have sores, cuts, or openings in your skin that semen (cum), vaginal fluids, or blood may get into. So don’t have sex if you have a herpes outbreak or other infections. Having other STDs makes you more likely to get HIV, so it’s a good idea to get tested for STDs regularly.

There’s no vaccine that protects against HIV, but lots of people are working on making one. And there are medicines (called PEP and PrEP) that can help prevent HIV.

If you don’t have HIV and your partner does, they can get on an HIV treatment called antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART can lower their chance of spreading HIV during sex. And some people who are on ART can’t transmit HIV to their partner at all.

What is PrEP and how does it prevent HIV?

PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It’s a pill you take once a day that can help you prevent HIV. Your doctor or nurse can help you decide if PrEP makes sense for you. Read more about PrEP.

What is PEP and how does it prevent HIV?

PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. It’s a series of pills you start taking after you’ve been exposed to HIV that lowers your chances of getting HIV. You have to start PEP within 72 hours (3 days), after you were exposed to HIV for it to work. The sooner you start it, the better. Every hour counts, so if you think you were exposed to HIV, call your nurse or doctor or go to the emergency room right away. PEP is only for emergencies — it doesn’t take the place of using condoms or PrEP. Read more about PEP.

What is ART and how does it help prevent HIV?

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a combination of medicines that slows down the effects of HIV in your body and can help you stay healthy for many years. It can also lower or even stop your chances of giving HIV to anyone else.

ART lowers the amount of HIV in your body (called your viral load) — sometimes to the point where HIV won’t show up on standard blood tests. If your HIV viral load is so low that certain tests can’t see it, it’s called “undetectable.” When someone has an undetectable viral load, they can’t spread HIV to others during sex.

It’s important to remember that even with an undetectable viral load, HIV is still present in your body. If you stop treatment your viral load can go up, making it possible to pass HIV to others you have sex with. Your doctor or nurse can help you find the treatment that’s best for you to help keep your viral load low, so you can stay healthy.

How can I make sure I don’t give HIV to anyone during sex?

If you find out that you have HIV, try to stay calm. People living with HIV can have normal, healthy relationships and sex lives. But it’s important to take precautions to help your partner(s) stay HIV-free.

There are a few ways that you can avoid giving HIV to other people:

  • Always use condoms when you have vaginal and anal sex.

  • Start treatment for HIV as soon as possible, and keep taking your HIV medicine. When you take it correctly, HIV treatment can lower or even stop your chances of spreading the virus to your sexual partners (and help you stay healthy). 

  • There’s a daily pill your partner can take to lower the risk of getting HIV, called PrEP.

  • Don’t share needles for shooting drugs, piercings, or tattoos.

  • Get tested and treated for other STDs besides HIV regularly. Having other STDs makes it easier for you to spread HIV to others.

If you test positive for HIV, it’s important to tell your sexual partners about it so they can be tested, too. Even if you’re really careful to not spread HIV, be honest with your future partners about your status so you can both be informed and help each other stay healthy. Read more about talking with your partners about HIV.

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