Safer sex, safer drug use, and safer body art can help prevent the transmission of HIV.
Sexual transmission of HIV most often occurs through vaginal or anal intercourse without a condom. Consistent and correct use of condoms will not only stop HIV transmission, but also protect against other sexually transmitted infections.
- Condoms act as a barrier, helping to prevent the exchange of body fluids during sexual intercourse. You can get two types of condoms from Positive Women’s Network for free. External condoms are worn on penises. Internal condoms are inserted into vaginas or anuses.
- Lubricant (lube) can make sex better and healthier. It can also make condom use easier. Avoid lubes that are oil-based and don’t use home products such as hand cream or Vaseline because they can break condoms down. Water-based lube is safe and available from Positive Women’s Network for free.
- Oral sex can be a risk for other sexually transmitted infections, so think about using sex dams or dental dams. Like condoms, these act as a barrier to prevent the exchange of body fluids. To make a dental dam, try cutting a condom up the side to make it flat.
HIV medications also offer protection against the sexual transmission of the virus.
- For a person living with HIV, the consistent and correct use of antiretroviral drugs can lower the amount of HIV in the body to the point that it becomes undetectable to measurements, dramatically reducing the likelihood of sexual transmission of HIV to a partner.
- For a person who does not have HIV, consistent and correct use of antiretroviral drugs can prevent HIV infection from an HIV-positive partner. When an HIV-negative person takes HIV drugs for preventive reasons, it is called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). This requires a doctor’s prescription. If you think you’d be a good candidate for PrEP, talk to a health care provider.
Safer Drug Use
Injection drug use is another way that HIV can be transmitted. To avoid HIV and other blood-borne diseases, the safest way to inject is to use new equipment (especially needles) each time. Here are some other tips for safer drug use:
- If reusing equipment, make sure you clean it thoroughly, with clean water and bleach.
- Avoid using other people’s filters, and have your own spoon and mixing water cup.
- Look after your veins by injecting in different places on the body. Injecting in the same spot over and over can irritate your veins and lead to infection.
- If you have access to harm reduction programs, you can get clean injection equipment for free.
- If you have access to a supervised injection site such as Vancouver’s Insite, you can get clean injection equipment for free as well as health care assistance.
Safer Body Art
Tattooing and piercing are other ways that HIV can be transmitted.
When considering a professional artist, look for someone with experience and a solid reputation, who understands and follows infection control procedures in their studio (such as having an autoclave to sterilize equipment), and who has a public health inspection certificate.
If tattooing and piercing occur in a non-professional setting, ensure the use of new or sterile equipment. The best way to do this is to provide your own.