How Can I Reduce My Risk of Getting HIV Through Sexual Contact?
Not having sex is the best way to prevent getting or transmitting HIV. If you’re sexually active, here are several highly effective actions you can take to reduce your risk of getting HIV, and the more of these actions you take, the safer you can be:
- Choose less risky sexual behaviors. Sexual activities carry different levels of risk for getting or transmitting HIV. HIV is mainly spread by having anal or vaginal sex without a condom or without taking medicines to prevent HIV. Anal sex is the riskiest type of sex for HIV transmission. It’s possible for either partner—the insertive partner (top) or the receptive partner (bottom)—to get HIV, but it is much riskier for an HIV-negative partner to be the receptive partner. Vaginal sex also carries a risk for HIV transmission, but it is less risky than anal sex. Oral sex poses little to no risk of getting or transmitting HIV. For more details, see our page, Understanding Risk Activities.
- Use condoms consistently and correctly. When used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV. For more details, see our page, Using Condoms.
- Reduce the number of people you have sex with. The number of sex partners you have affects your HIV risk. The more partners you have, the more likely you are to have a partner with HIV whose viral load is not suppressed or to have a sex partner with a sexually transmitted disease. Both of these factors can increase the risk of HIV transmission.
- Talk to your doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day. Studies have shown that PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV from sex if it’s used as prescribed, but PrEP is much less effective when it isn’t taken consistently.
PrEP should be considered if:
- you are HIV-negative and in an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV-positive partner
- you aren’t in a mutually monogamous relationship with a recently tested, HIV-negative partner and you are
- a gay or bisexual man who has had anal sex without a condom or has been diagnosed with an sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the past 6 months; or
- a heterosexual man or woman who does not regularly use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status who at at very high risk of HIV (e.g. people who inject drugs or women who have bisexual male partners).
- Talk to your doctor right away (within 3 days) about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if you’re HIV negative or don’t know your status and think you have been recently exposed to HIV during sex. An example of a possible exposure is if you have anal or vaginal sex without a condom with someone who is or may be HIV-positive, and you are HIV-negative and not taking PrEP. Your chance of exposure to HIV is lower if your HIV-positive partner is taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) consistently, especially if his/her viral load is undetectable. Starting PEP immediately and taking it daily for 4 weeks reduces your chance of getting HIV. For more information, see our page on PEP.
- Get tested and treated for other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and encourage your partners to do the same. If you are sexually active, get tested at least once a year. STDs can have long-term health consequences. They can also increase your chance of getting HIV or transmitting it to others. Find an STD testing site.
- If your partner is HIV-positive, encourage your partner to get and stay on HIV treatment. ART reduces the amount of HIV virus (viral load) in blood and body fluids. If taken consistently and correctly, ART can keep people with HIV healthy for many years, and greatly reduce their chance of transmitting HIV to sex partners. For more details, see our page, Overview of HIV Treatments.
Partner Communication and Agreements
Sharing your HIV status with your sex partners, and having them tell you their status, can also help you make good decisions about sex and the strategies you use to lower the chance of getting or transmitting HIV risk.
In addition, partners can make different kinds of choices about their sexual partnerships to try to lower their chances of getting or transmitting HIV. This includes being in a monogamous relationship, choosing partners with the same HIV status (serosorting), and having sex agreements to protect themselves and their partners from HIV.
While any of these actions can decrease the chance of getting or transmitting HIV, they are dependent upon both you and your partner accurately knowing and sharing information.
Learn More and Compare the Risks
Visit CDC’s interactive HIV Risk Reduction Tool to get customized information on behaviors that place you at risk for HIV and strategies to reduce your risk so that you can determine how best to protect yourself and your partner(s).
Related Topics on AIDS.gov
- AIDSInfo – The Basics of HIV Prevention
- CDC – HIV Risk Reduction Tool
- CDC – Basic Questions and Answers on HIV Prevention
- CDC – Basic Questions and Answers on HIV Transmission
- CDC – Fact Sheet: Oral Sex and HIV Risk
- CDC – Fact Sheet: Proven HIV Prevention Methods
- CDC – Fact Sheet: Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV Prevention
- CDC – Condom Fact Sheet In Brief
- CDC – HIV Transmission Risk
- OWH – Preventing HIV Infection
- VA – HIV/AIDS: Sex and Sexuality
- VA – FAQs: HIV Transmission and Risk
- VA – Tips for Using Condoms and Dental Dams
Last revised: 12/23/2015