How do you prevent HIV?There is no cure for HIV, but there are ways to prevent getting the virus.
HIV is generally passed from person-to-person through sexual (anal, vaginal, or oral) contact or by sharing needles and other drug works. HIV can be prevented through abstinence, mutual monogamy, condoms, by not sharing needles and drug works (commonly referred to as paraphernalia), and by limiting the use of substances (i.e. alcohol and other non-injecting drugs) that impair judgment.
There is currently no vaccine for HIV. Researchers have been trying to find an HIV vaccine since the virus was first identified in 1984. HIV is a very complex virus, so researchers have not been successful in creating a vaccine, but they continue to try.
Abstaining from sex means not having any type of sex at all—oral, anal, or vaginal. Abstinence is 100% effective in preventing HIV and other STDs.
The decision to practice abstinence does not mean that you should not know about condoms and safe sex practices. Most people stop being abstinent at some point in their lives. Learning how to protect yourself from HIV allows you to be prepared in case you decide to have sex.
Mutual monogamy means that you agree to be sexually active with only one person, and that person has agreed to be sexually active only with you. Reducing your number of sexual partners can decrease your risk for HIV. It is still important that you and your partner get tested for HIV and share your test results with one another. Many people choose to continue using condoms in a mutually monogamous relationship for further protection from HIV and other STDs.
When used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV infection. If you are sexually active, latex condoms provide the best protection against HIV infection. Polyurethane or plastic condoms may also be used and are good options for people with latex allergies. Natural membrane (such as lambskin) condoms are porous, meaning that fluids can seep through them, and therefore do not offer the same level of protection against HIV and other STDs.
Male latex condoms, placed over the penis, offer greater protection from HIV than female condoms. However, using a female condom is better than not using any form of protection at all. Condoms should be used consistently—EVERY time you have sex. Be sure not to tear the condom when opening the wrapper. Open the wrapper carefully with your hands—never use your teeth. And always use a NEW condom with every act of vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
To use a male condom correctly
- Before the penis comes into contact with the genitals, mouth, or anus, put the condom
on the tip of the erect penis with the rolled side out.
- If the condom does not have a reservoir tip, pinch the tip, leaving a half-inch space for semen to collect.
- Holding the tip, unroll the condom all the way down to the base of the erect penis.
- After ejaculation and before the penis gets soft, hold the rim of the condom (at the base of the penis) and carefully withdraw.
- Gently pull the condom off the penis, making sure that semen doesn't spill out.
- Wrap the condom in a tissue and throw it in the trash where others won't handle it.
- If you feel the condom break at any point during sexual activity, stop immediately, withdraw, remove the broken condom, and put on a new condom.
- Ensure that adequate lubrication is used during vaginal and anal sex.
- Use water-based lubricants.
- Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, shortening, mineral oil, massage oils, body lotions, and cooking oil, should NOT be used because they can weaken latex, causing the condom to break or tear.
- Use a new condom for every act of anal, vaginal, and oral sex—from start to finish.
To use a female condom correctly
- Put lubricant on the outside of the closed end.
- Squeeze together the sides of the inner ring of the condom and insert it into the vagina like a tampon.
- With your finger, push the inner ring into the vagina as far as it will go.
- The inner ring will stay in place, kind of like a diaphragm.
- Pull out your finger, allowing the outer ring to stay outside the vagina.
- Guide the penis into the condom.
- Pull out gently.
- Remove the condom before standing up.
How effective are latex condoms in the fight against HIV?Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Research on the effectiveness of latex condoms in preventing heterosexual transmission is both comprehensive and conclusive. The ability of latex condoms to prevent transmission has been scientifically established. It should be noted that condom use cannot provide absolute protection against HIV. The surest way to avoid transmission of HIV is to abstain from sexual intercourse or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and you know is not infected.
Are health care workers at risk of getting HIV on the job?The risk of health care workers being exposed to HIV on the job is very low, especially if they carefully follow universal precautions (i.e., using protective practices and personal protective equipment to prevent HIV and other blood-borne infections). It is important to remember that casual, everyday contact with an HIV-infected person does not expose health care workers or anyone else to HIV. For health care workers on the job, the main risk of HIV transmission is through accidental injuries from needles and other sharp instruments that may be contaminated with the virus; however, even this risk is small.
Drug and Alcohol UseThere are a couple of ways that drug and alcohol use can increase a person’s risk of HIV infection. One way is that using drugs and alcohol can reduce inhibitions and possibly increase the chance of one engaging in risky behaviors that can increase the risk of HIV exposure, such as unprotected sex.
Another way is that of using intravenous drugs (i.e., “shooting up”) and sharing needles or works (cooker, syringes, etc) with an infected person increases a person’s risk of HIV infection. If you use intravenous drugs, do NOT share needles or other drug works with another person. Many communities have needle exchange programs where people who are addicted to injection drugs can exchange used needles for new needles, and many pharmacies and medical specialty shops sell disposable needles and syringes. You should never share needles and other drug works with anyone else. But, the unfortunate reality is that access to clean, new, sterile syringes is sometimes limited.
If you inject illicit drugs, or if you are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol and are interested in treatment programs and other options that can help you, talk with your doctor or health care provider, counselor, loved one, or someone else you trust about getting into a treatment program.
Are there medications I can take that will keep me from getting HIV if I am exposed?There may be. Promising research has shown that PrEP—Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis—may provide some protection against HIV infection. PrEP trials involve the use of HIV treatment medications in an attempt to protect high-risk uninfected individuals from HIV infection. However, the research to date has only been shown to reduce HIV infection among gay and bisexual men, and transgendered women who have sex with men, and there are no data regarding its benefit among heterosexuals or injection drug users. There are many other important aspects to PrEP and its limitations in preventing HIV.
If I think I have been exposed to HIV, what are my options?There is a treatment regimen called Post-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP that may be useful in preventing HIV infection. However, there are some things to keep in mind about PEP.
- PEP is NOT a “morning after” pill. It is a round of several drugs that have to be taken for at least 30 days and are very expensive (anywhere from $600 to $1,000).
- The medications have serious side effects.
- There is no research to show that PEP works for non-work exposure.
- The use of PEP for non-work-related exposure is controversial because of fear it will encourage risky behaviors. It’s important to keep in mind that even among health care workers, PEP is not 100% effective in preventing HIV.