Risk Isn't Just
Multiple factors can affect the chances of being exposed to an STI, like HIV. Understanding these factors means you’ll be better able to figure out which prevention options are best for you.
Understanding Sexual Networks
Everyone who has sex is part of a sexual network.
Your sexual network includes all of your partners, but it may be bigger than you think. Not only does your network include your partner(s), but all of their partners, too.
Is that a big deal?
The more sexual connections there are in a sexual network, the greater the chances of coming into contact with a sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HIV.
Who you have sex with is just one piece of the puzzle. Where you live and how you have sex can play a role, too. Believe it or not, even certain zip codes can have a higher risk of HIV.
What can you do about it?
Keep using condoms and lube and, if you're HIV-negative, talk to a healthcare provider about HIV prevention and whether PrEP may be an option for you.
Not sure how to start the conversation? Use our Doctor Discussion Guide to get the ball rolling.
Getting Tested for STIs and KnowingYour Status
Feeling nervous about getting tested is understandable. But getting tested means you're dealing with your health head-on. No matter what the results say, you can do something about it.
Why is getting tested so important? It’s because when you have sex, body fluids or skin-to-skin contact can pass things like syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and even HIV. And because of inflammation or breaks in the skin, having an STI can make it easier for HIV to be passed from one person to another.
In addition to a urine sample or blood draw, a healthcare provider may ask for other samples since STIs can show up in different places.
Penis. Vagina. Butt. Mouth. If you have it and you use it, a healthcare provider may want to test it. They may swab those areas to check for STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea. Some providers might even let you swab those areas yourself, so ask if you prefer.
These swabs are important because, without those samples, STIs may get missed from just a urine sample or blood draw. Ask a healthcare provider how they test for STIs and which tests are right for you.
Getting tested means you're owning your sexual health. And knowing your status means you can work to be the healthiest you can be, help protect your partner(s), and continue preventing STIs.
Communicating With Your Partner(s)About Status
When it comes to sex, talking (and not just about the naughty stuff…) is an important part.
Ask your partner about what they do to help protect themselves from HIV, their HIV and STI status, and when they were last tested.
It's also helpful to talk to a healthcare provider to get an idea of all the ways you can help protect each other. If you are HIV-negative, ask if HIV prevention medicines for PrEP may be right for you. If you are HIV-positive, starting and sticking to HIV treatment can help prevent passing HIV to others.
At the end of the day, sex should be fun. Talking about testing and status honestly means that you can both feel more relaxed, enjoy yourselves, and help protect each other's sexual health.
Using Condoms Every Time
You probably already know that condoms are important. But you may not be using them as consistently as you think you should. When things heat up, you and your partner might get distracted in the moment. It happens. But understanding why condoms are such a big deal may help you decide to put one on before you get it on.
Consistently and correctly using condoms is one of the best ways to help protect against STIs, including HIV. Not using a condom means increasing your risk. Get a refresher on what types of condoms and lube are best to use.