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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.

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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.

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, dental dam, or plastic wrap

  • using clean sex toys

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

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

  • vaginal sex with a condom

  • anal sex with a condom

  • 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

  • anal sex without a condom

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 yet, but lots of people are working on it.

What is PrEP and how does it prevent HIV?

PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a way to help prevent HIV by taking a pill every day. It reduces your risk of getting infected. When PrEP is combined with condoms and other prevention methods it works even better. PrEP may not work if you skip doses. Even if used correctly, there is no guarantee that PrEP will work.

PrEP is only used for people who are at very high risk for HIV through sex or IV drug use.  PrEP might be right for you if

  • your partner is HIV-positive

  • your partner is HIV-negative and either you or your partner has sex with someone whose HIV status isn’t known

  • you are a gay or bisexual man who has had anal sex without a condom or been told you have an STD in the past 6 months

  • you are a heterosexual man or woman who does not use condoms every time you have sex with people who inject drugs or have bisexual male partners

  • you have injected drugs in the past 6 months and have shared needles or been in drug treatment for IV drug use in the past 6 months.

Talk with your doctor or nurse about whether or not PrEP might be good for you. They can tell you more about how it works and what you can expect while taking it.

What is PEP and how does it prevent HIV?

PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is a way to prevent HIV after being exposed to it. With PEP, you take anti-HIV medicines as soon as possible after you may have been exposed to HIV to try to reduce the chance of becoming HIV positive. This could happen because of a sexual assault, or having unprotected sex with someone who has HIV, or sharing needles with someone who has HIV.

One or more medicines are taken several times a day for at least 28 days. The medicines work by keeping HIV from spreading through your body. Even if taken correctly, there is no guarantee that taking PEP will work.

It should only be used rarely, right after a possible exposure. Your doctor or nurse will help decide if PEP is right for you, depending on what happened, when it happened, and what you know about the HIV status of the person whose blood or body fluids you were exposed to.

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

If you find out that you have HIV, try not to freak out. There are a few ways that you can avoid giving it to other people:

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

  • Start treatments for HIV as soon as possible, which can lower your chances of spreading it to your partner (and help you stay healthy).

  • There are medications your partner can take to lower the risk of getting HIV. This treatment is 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.

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 help prevent it from spreading.