HIV Prevention

The Basics of HIV Prevention - How to Practice Safe Sex & Avoid Contracting the HIV Virus

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Table of Contents

The Importance of Understanding HIV Prevention

Though you don’t need to know exactly how HIV works in the body, it is important to educate yourself. Learn the risk of how this disease is spread and how to protect yourself from transmission.

Information on how to protect yourself from exposure to the HIV is now given in schools, Health Departments and readily available on the internet. Openly discussing options with sexual partners is a key. Choosing to remain healthy is the goal.

Consider Abstinence

Abstinence is the only way to guarantee 100% you don’t contract a sexually transmitted disease/infection via sex. A person who is abstinent has either never had sex or has made the decision not to have sex for an extended period of time, usually lasting several years. Limiting your sexual partners will effectively decrease the chances of coming into contact with an infected individual.

Practice Safe Sex

When most people think of safe sex, condoms come to mind. Condoms are highly effective against HIV transmission when used the right way. They are also effective against many other STDs transmitted via bodily fluids, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. However, condoms are less effective against STDs spread via skin to skin contact, like genital warts, herpes or syphilis.

  • Lubricants can help prevent the already miniscule risk a condom will break or slip.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, circumcised men are less likely to contract HIV from infected female partners, though this shouldn’t be a sole technique for prevention.
  • For those in extremely high-risk situations, medications called post-exposure prophylaxis can be taken within 72 hours after exposure to help prevent infection.
  • Drinking alcohol or using certain drugs will drastically increase the chances you’ll participate in risky sexual behavior.
  • Douching for women after intercourse can actually worsen the problem, spreading an existing infection further into the reproductive tract.
  • Though diaphragms (a cap worn by the woman to cover the cervix) protect against pregnancy, they don’t help much against STDs.

Male Condoms

It’s vitally important to wear a condom every time you have sex, be it anal or vaginal. Though there has never been a documented case of HIV being spread via saliva, you can still contract the disease when having oral sex if the partner has bleeding sores in their mouth. Always use a condom made from latex or polyurethane, not natural materials.

  • Always make sure you use a new condom every time you have sex.
  • Avoid oil based lubricants with condoms, only using those that are water based (ex. K-Y jelly) to avoid tearing.

Female Condoms

Women can use female condoms which are thin pouches made of a latex like material called nitrile, which help prevent both STDs and pregnancy. Female condoms are pre-lubricated, designed to fit all sizes, and fit inside the vagina. Female condoms can also be used inside the anus.

Dental Dam

Dental Dams are either latex or polyurethane sheets meant to act as a barrier between the mouth and either the vagina or anus during oral sex. Though HIV cannot be spread by way of saliva, an infected individual with bleeding or open sores in their mouth can still contract the disease.

PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis)

These medications were specifically developed for people who engage in high risk activity that knowingly expose them to the HIV. PrEP contains two medications that are used in combination with other HIV fighting medications to create a powerful HIV prevention treatment. When used on a consistent basis, PrEP has been shown to be 92% effective at reducing the risk for HIV in these individuals.

Learn Your Partner’s History

Knowing your partner’s sexual history can get you that much closer to complete safety. People within a committed relationship tend to participate in far less risky behavior. Still, the only way to be as sure as possible is to request a partner be tested.

Never Share Needles for Any Reason, & Never Use Non-sterile Needles

Not only can illegal drug use lower inhibitions and effect decision making, it affects your health and has been proven to increase chances of contracting HIV. The virus can easily be transmitted via non-sterile needles, from a HIV positive patient to a healthy one.

HIV Prevention for Pregnant Women

There is a significant risk HIV positive mothers will pass their infection on during pregnancy, childbirth, and especially traditional vaginal childbirth. For this reason, doctors might recommend a Cesarean section to decrease the risk of transmission.

By taking recommended medications prescribed by a physician, the risk for transmission can be greatly reduced. The infant will begin taking medications as early as 4-6 weeks after the birth.

In some circumstances, pregnant women with HIV might not know they’ve been infected. For this reason, it’s important all women either pregnant or planning on pregnancy receive testing as quickly as possible.

  • The HIV virus can be transmitted via breast milk during breastfeeding.
  • Few babies are born in the United States with HIV, thanks to early prenatal care testing.

Additional Resources

The Office on Women's Healthwww.womenshealth.govThe Office on Women's Health coordinates women's health efforts and tackles women's health challenges.
Planned Parenthoodwww.plannedparenthood.orgPlanned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care education and information to millions of people worldwide.
Stanford Health Carestanfordhealthcare.orgStanford Health Care provides HIV patients with the very best in diagnosis and treatment.
Centers for Disease Control and CDC provides diverse resources related to HIV and AIDS. provides vital HIV services where they are most needed.


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