Risk Isn't Just 
About You

There are multiple factors that can affect the chances you might be exposed to HIV or other STIs.

  • It's about what you do
  • It's about what your partner does
  • It's about what zip code you're having sex in

You might know some of the risk factors already, but some of them might be new information to you. This page will help you understand what could put you at risk so you can figure out which prevention options might be best for you.

Let’s talk about the ways you can lower HIV risk:

Understanding Sexual Networks

Sexual networks play a big role in your sexual health. Why’s that? It's because your sexual network is how you are connected to people sexually. Your network includes everyone you’ve had sex with plus all of their partners, plus all of their partners' partners, plus all…ok, you get the point.

And while it's possible for any sexually active person to get HIV, HIV rates can vary from zip code to zip code. So, where your sexual network is located matters too. Some areas or communities have a higher concentration of HIV than others. That means if you’re having sex in areas or networks where HIV is more common, the chances you might be exposed to HIV could be higher.

Why does all this matter? Because the more condomless sex had in an area or community where certain STIs are more common, the higher the chances you could be exposed to an STI, like HIV.

So, what can you do? Talk to your partner(s) and get on the same page about things like testing, status, and prevention options.

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Communicating with Partners

Being in a relationship doesn't mean it's time to stop thinking about sexual health.

Everyone defines "relationship" differently. If you and your partner decide that monogamy isn't for you, that's okay. Both of your sexual networks may grow, so keep talking honestly about using healthier sex practices (including condoms) and getting tested regularly.

All of these tips still apply if your relationship is monogamous too. Relationships are constantly changing and your sexual network still has the potential to grow if you or your partner sleep with someone else.

Depending on the HIV status of you or your partner(s), prevention medicines like PrEP and PEP, or prevention methods like TasP, could also be an option. Along with using condoms and getting tested, consider bringing prevention medicines up with a healthcare provider. If you’re not sure who to talk to about PrEP, you can find someone here.

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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 latex condoms is one of the best ways to 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.

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Getting Tested for STIs

First off, you might be wondering if a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is the same as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). They’re not that different. A disease usually has certain symptoms associated with it. But many people don’t have symptoms when they’re infected, so using the broader term "STI" is a bit more accurate.

Having an STI like syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, trichomoniasis, or bacterial vaginosis makes it easier to get HIV. And if you’re living with HIV, having one of those STIs makes it easier to give HIV to a partner.

Why? Not to get too science-y, but inflammation or breaks in the skin can make it easier for HIV to be passed from one person to another.

The best thing you can do is get tested. And know that no matter what the results say—you can do something about it. Some STIs are curable, most are treatable, and ALL are manageable. A healthcare provider can help you figure out what to do next.

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Knowing Your Status

If you're not sure what to expect when you get tested, it can seem overwhelming. That's understandable. But knowing your STI and HIV status is important. Once you know where you stand, you’ll know how to move forward. A healthcare provider can help you make informed decisions so you can be the healthiest you can be.

Wondering how you're going to pay for testing can cause some worry too. Good news: many locations offer free testing. (whew!) Find free testing locations here.

More to see? Oh, yes! >

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