HIV In Women
HIV is not a “gay” disease or a “guy” disease. HIV will infect anybody — all it needs is a way into the bloodstream.
When you see statistics about HIV in women, try to keep a few facts in mind:
- Worldwide, half of all the people living with HIV are women.
- Most women infected with HIV get it from heterosexual contact.
- Women living with HIV who are pregnant or nursing risk passing the virus to their baby.
It’s true in the United States that African-American and Latina women are more likely to contract HIV. But those stats can give people a false sense of security. HIV doesn’t care about your race or gender or how much money you made last year. It’s just a virus that wants to get into your body and make copies of itself.
And if you’re pregnant or nursing, an HIV infection isn’t only about you: It can affect the health of your baby.
HIV Potential Risk for heterosexual women
HIV is a sexually transmitted disease, so we can’t talk about it without talking about sex. The most common way for HIV to get into the body is to pass through the soft, sensitive tissues of the anus or the vagina.
Women often have vaginal and/or anal sex. When semen (cum) from the man touches the anal or vaginal tissues of a woman, HIV can seep right through those tissues and into the bloodstream.
So, women having sex with men should do whatever it takes to protect their anal and vaginal tissues during sex.
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Protection and testing for women
Using a condom during sex makes it almost impossible for HIV to pass through the tissues of the anus and vagina. This includes use of the internal condom, which women place in their vagina or anus themselves instead of having to rely on the man to put a condom on. Condoms are cheap, effective, and readily available.
But a condom is only part of the equation. It’s also recommended that women get tested for HIV regularly — every three or six months, depending on their sex habits and a doctor’s recommendation.
PrEP is also an option for women that find themselves at higher risk of contracting the virus. PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a once daily pill that can help reduce the chances of becoming infected with HIV by 93-99%! Unlike male PrEP users though, women should take PrEP once daily for three weeks to ensure their anal and vaginal tissues are fully protected before engaging in risky sexual behaviors.
Combining safer sex and regular testing can dramatically reduce a woman’s chance of getting infected with HIV (while also protecting against other STDs). Women who use injected drugs also can lower their risk by always using clean needles.
Awareness can reduce risk of HIV in women
HIV can live in the body for years before somebody knows they are infected. And they can infect anybody they have sex with during those years.
Women have contracted HIV from men they love and trust. If their guy went through a reckless phase five years earlier where he had lots of partners and used injected drugs, he could be infected without even realizing it.
Today there are powerful anti-retroviral treatments women can take either before or after potential exposure to HIV to prevent the virus from spreading in the body. Together with condoms and regular testing, these medications can dramatically reduce the chance of a woman becoming infected with HIV.
The importance of standing up for your health
Women often face overt pressure from men who prefer to have unprotected sex. Some women also prefer not to insist that their partner use protection.
It’s important to understand the importance of resisting this kind of pressure. If you need help, talk to a counselor or support group and ask how they have dealt with it successfully in the past.
Getting tested and protected is important to your health and to the health of people around the world. We all have our part to do to bring about an AIDS-free generation.
Positive Peers is made possible through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, HIV/AIDS Bureau Special Projects of National Significance (SPNS) Grant to The MetroHealth System. Click here for more information about the SPNS grant initiative.
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