Sexual Health

Talk to Your Healthcare Providers

Healthcare providers are key partners in helping you maintain a healthy and safe sex life. They can provide advice on protecting yourself from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), screen you for current infections, treat other issues such as erectile dysfunction, monitor your viral load to ensure that it remains undetectable, provide counseling on family planning methods, and even assist with a dialogue between you and your partner.

Talk to Your Partner

It is important to tell your intimate partner(s) about your HIV status, whether you are casually dating or in a long-term, committed relationship. It’s also important to discuss your partner’s HIV status and whether or not he or she has any STDs. If you are HIV-positive and your partner is HIV-negative, keep in mind there are sexual activities that you can engage in and still be safe.

You and your partner should determine what sexual behaviors and prevention practices are going to be used in your relationship—and outside of it if you are not monogamous. The goal of this communication is to keep you BOTH healthy and free from new infections.

For more information, see the Department of Veterans Affairs’ HIV/AIDS: Sex and Sexuality.

Preventing HIV Transmission

Having HIV doesn’t mean you will automatically infect your partner(s)—or that you can’t have a satisfying sexual relationship. It just means you need to adopt sexual practices that will protect your partner(s) AND yourself.

Preventing Sexually-Transmitted Diseases

Preventing STDs should always be a priority, regardless of whether or not you or your partner is HIV-positive. But STDs can cause particular problems for people living with HIV. Because immune dysfunction is a component of HIV disease, STDs can be more extensive, harder to treat, or recurrent in HIV-positive patients. In addition, there is evidence that it’s easier to contract and/or transmit HIV if either you or your partner (or both of you) has an STD.

Consistent and correct condom use is the best way to prevent infection when engaging in sexual activity. If you are having sex with multiple partners, it’s important to be tested for STDs every 3-6 months, even if you are using condoms.

That’s because some STDs (like herpes or HPV) can be transmitted even if you are using a condom. Keep in mind there are other activities that you and your partner can engage in that have a lower-risk for transmitting STDs and HIV.

For more information, see CDC’s Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS & STDs.

One Positive, One Negative

So-called “magnetic couples” are those in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative (another term for this is “serodiscordant”). Magnetic couples can have a healthy and normal sex life, but it requires communication and taking the necessary steps to reduce the risks of HIV transmission. Some of these steps include:

  • Choosing to abstain from certain high-risk activities, like anal or vaginal sex
  • Using condoms for high-risk sexual behaviors, such as anal or vaginal sex
  • Adhering completely to an HIV medication regimen for the HIV-positive partner
  • Engaging in “safer sex” behaviors, such as massage, kissing, and mutual masturbation

Sex with Another HIV-Positive Partner

Some people living with HIV believe that, since they’ve already been infected, there’s no real reason to engage in safer sex with other HIV-positive partners. But engaging in unprotected sex puts you at risk for getting other STDs besides HIV. While many STDs are treatable, they can take a toll on your immune system, even affecting your CD4 count.

In addition, there is also a risk of contracting a different strain of HIV. While the research regarding this is still new, scientists do believe that it’s possible to be infected with a different strain of the virus in addition to your own. These strains can be resistant to your medications, making your HIV harder to treat. For this reason, even if your sex partner is HIV-positive, it’s important to remember to keep the lines of communication open and to use condoms—and for BOTH of you to be tested regularly for STDs if you are not monogamous.

Fact Sheets & Print Materials

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Frequently Asked Questions

Aren’t all STDs curable with a shot or a pill?

No. While most bacterial infections are curable with an antibiotic injection or pill, some viral infections (including herpes and HPV) may or may not resolve on their own. HIV is a viral STD that will not go away once you have it. There are currently no cures for these viruses—only treatments. In particular, having herpes can increase the risks of transmitting or acquiring HIV. For more information, see CDC’s HIV/AIDS & STDs.

Additional Resources

Last revised: 11/02/2010