Many individuals have lots of questions about how to protect themselves from getting HIV. Phrases like “safer sex”, “less risky behaviors”, “dental dams”, “transmission rates”, often cause confusion and discomfort. It is important to understand how you can protect yourself from becoming infected with HIV, and if you are already infected, how you can prevent someone else from getting infected, as well as keeping yourself and others healthy by avoiding other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). The Primary Prevention web pages on StopHIV.com are designed to provide individuals with some basic information about how to protect themselves from HIV.
The information is designed for educational purposes only. If you have questions, talk to your health professional or HIV/AIDS risk reduction specialist. To find a Pennsylvania health professional or service agency in your area, please take a look at our online resource directory.
Let’s start by defining some words.
Primary Prevention: Preventing an individual from becoming infected with HIV.
Secondary Prevention: Once a person is infected with HIV, assisting the person in staying healthy as long as possible and not developing complications.
Safer Sex: While sex can be very enjoyable, it can also have serious consequences. The consequences can range from emotional distress to disease to pregnancy. When one uses the word “safer,” they are actually talking about reducing the risk of HIV and STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) transmission or pregnancy. For example, if two people are riding bicycles, one wearing a helmet and the other not wearing one, they can still both get a head injury if they crash. However, the one wearing the helmet has a reduced risk of becoming injured. Practicing “safer sex” all the time, correctly and consistently, will significantly reduce your risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Complete abstinence is the only 100% sure way not to contract HIV through sexual contact. While abstinence works for some people, it doesn’t work for others. Therefore, primary prevention teaches individuals how they can better protect themselves if they choose to engage in sexual activities, by making those activities safer.
Let’s quickly talk about how HIV is transmitted. This will help you to determine the skills that you need to develop in order to stay safe. HIV is transmitted through certain body fluids from one person to another. The body fluids that carry HIV are blood, semen (including pre-cum), vaginal fluids, and breast milk. In order for a person infected with HIV to transmit the infection to another individual, the infected body fluid must enter the body of a non-infected person.
If both partners have tested negative for HIV (two times over a six month period) and they have been correctly and consistently practicing safe sex in a mutually monogamous relationship, the couple is not at risk for HIV infection. This is why it is important to regularly get tested for HIV.
However, if you do NOT know your partners HIV status (whether they have HIV or not), always use some kind of protection. Protection, such as a male or female condom, is basically a barrier that prevents the sharing of body fluids. There are many safer sex items that reduce your risk of HIV infection. However, we are limiting this material to the three main barriers that can be used to practice safer sex – male latex condoms, female condoms, and dental dams. We will also address sharing injection drug needles and syringes.
This information is designed for educational purposes only. If you have questions, talk to your health professional or an HIV/AIDS risk reduction specialist. To find a health professional or service agency in your area of Pennsylvania, please use our online resource directory.