Frequently Asked Questions
How is HIV/AIDS transmitted?
HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is the virus that causes AIDS. A-I-D-S stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The word "acquired" means that AIDS is a disease that can only be transmitted in very specific situations. AIDS is not a disease that people can "catch" like a cold or the flu. HIV is not transmitted through air, water, food, saliva or casual contact (hugging, handshaking, or use of restrooms and drinking fountains).
HIV is found in strong concentrations in blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. HIV can only be transmitted if one of these infected fluids enters the blood stream, either through contact with the mucous membranes of the body, such as the mouth, vagina, tip of the penis, or anus, or through direct contact, such as needle sticks or injection. Two of the most common ways that HIV is transmitted are through unprotected sex and needle sharing.
Can I tell by looking at someone if they have HIV infection or AIDS?
No. You cannot tell by looking at someone if they have HIV/AIDS. People are not put at risk for HIV infection because of their age, race, gender or sexual orientation. Certain types of behaviors can lead to the transmission of HIV, not certain types of people.
It is important to remember that it does not matter who you are when it comes to contracting HIV/AIDS. The point is that people get HIV/AIDS if they engage in behaviors that put them at risk.
What is unsafe sex?
Unprotected sex means any type of sexual activity without a condom that allows blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or breast milk to come into contact with one or more of the mucous membranes of the body. This includes unprotected anal, vaginal and oral sex. If your anus, vagina, tip of the penis or mouth comes into contact with blood, semen, vaginal secretions, or breast milk, you have put yourself at risk for contracting HIV.
Is oral sex safe?
While the risks associated with unprotected oral sex are less than the risks of unprotectedanal sex, oral sex is not without risk. The mouth is a mucous membrane that does not need any cuts, sores or openings to allow the virus to pass through. This is why unprotected oral sex is risky.
How does needle sharing put someone at risk for HIV infection?
When we talk about HIV being transmitted by sharing needles, we are talking about using the same IV needle, syringe and/or other IV "works" that have been used before by someone else, without proper cleaning. If you are injecting heroin, cocaine, morphine, steroids, or any other substances, and are sharing needles, syringes or other IV "works" that have not been properly cleansed, you are putting yourself at a great risk for contracting HIV. The safest way to protect yourself against HIV infection is by not sharing needles, syringes or IV "works" with anyone, no matter how healthy he or she looks or how well you know him or her.
Dont you have to have an open cut or wound for HIV transmission to occur?
No, you do not need to have an open cut, tear or wound for HIV transmission to occur. HIV can be transmitted through your mucosal membranes (eyes, nose, mouth, tip of penis, vagina, anus). These membranes act like a sponge, allowing the virus to cross over the membrane barrier and into the bloodstream.
I have sex with a male and he "pulls out" before he ejaculates, have I put myself at risk for HIV?
Yes. Pre-ejaculatory fluids (pre cum), which are present when a man gets an erection, contain HIV. If one of your mucous membranes comes in contact with pre-ejaculatory fluid you have put yourself at risk for HIV infection. "Pulling out" is not a safer sex practice.
What types of condom should I use to protect myself against HIV transmission?
Condoms that are made of latex or polyurethane and approved by the FDA are the only barriers that are proven to reduce the risk of HIV infection. Male condoms are available in both latex and polyurethane, female condoms are available in polyurethane only.
When should I use a condom?
You should use a condom every time you engage in anal, vaginal and/or oral sex.
How do I use a condom?
- A new condom must be used for each sex act.
- Only use one condom at a time. Two condoms are not better than one. Putting two condoms on at the same time could cause the latex to break down and lead to condom failure.
- The condom must be put on a hard/erect penis before any sexual contact occurs.
- Carefully open the package with your fingertips. Do not use sharp items (i.e. your teeth or fingernails) to open the package.
- Hold the tip of the condom and squeeze out the air. Excess air could cause condom breakage.
- Condoms with a pre-formed reservoir tip are available. If the condom you are using does not have a pre-formed reservoir tip, you must make one by leaving room at the tip of the condom.
- Holding the tip of the condom between your fingertips, (remember to leave some room for the reservoir tip), smooth the condom over the tip of the erect penis.
- Unroll the condom all the way down the shaft of the penis.
- Immediately after ejaculation, withdraw the penis, holding onto the rim of the condom.
- Dispose of properly. Do not flush condoms. Throw them away.
What about oral sex? When do I have to use a condom?
If you are performing oral sex on a male, make sure that your partner is wearing a FDA approved non-lubricated latex or polyurethane condom. This is to prevent semen from coming in contact with the mucous membranes of your mouth.
If you are performing oral sex on a female you must have a latex barrier between your mouth and your partners vaginal secretions. This is to prevent vaginal secretions from coming in contact with the mucous membranes of your mouth. You can purchase latex squares, commonly called "Glyde Dams®", for this purpose. You can also make a latex square out of a male condom by cutting off the tip of the condom before unrolling it and then cutting it lengthwise.
Many people prefer the taste of flavored latex condoms and latex squares which are specifically designed for oral sex.
Where can I purchase condoms or latex squares?
- Both male and female condoms should be available at your local pharmacy.
- Make sure that you check the package for expiration date and punctures before purchasing condoms.
- If the condom looks damaged, or if the expiration date has passed, do not purchase or use it.
- Store condoms and latex squares at room temperature.
- To prevent condom breakage, do not expose latex condoms to extreme conditions (low or high temperatures, excess moisture or direct sunlight) for extended periods of time. Wallets, glove compartments or purses are not safe storage places for condoms.
- If youve had the condom for a while, please check its expiration date and condition before you use it!
- Latex squares can be purchased at adult stores and at condom specialty shops. (Make sure that they are 100% latex)
What types of lubricants are safe to use with condoms?
A water-based lubricant, like K-Y jelly®, is recommended for use with latex condoms and latex squares.
Do not use oil-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly, mineral or vegetable oils, or cold cream. These could break down the latex and cause condom breakage.
How does the "AIDS test" work?
What many people call the "AIDS test" is really a test for HIV antibodies, or markers in a person's system which indicate infection with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. The body produces antibodies to fight infection. HIV antibodies develop in a person when the body is trying to fight off HIV infection. While there are tests for the virus itself, these tests are costly, and generally not used until after an antibody test proves the presence of HIV infection in the body.
What is the window period?
It takes some time after a person is first infected with HIV for the body to produce enough antibodies to show up on a test. For some weeks, or even months, it is possible to be infected with HIV, and to have an antibody test result show up negative. This period of time is called the window period.
During this window period, HIV is still active in an infected person's system, even though the test cannot pick up the presence of antibodies. The virus can be transmitted to another person who has unprotected contact with the infected person's blood, semen, vaginal secretions or breast milk.
Because of the window period, the antibody test is not useful immediately after a first exposure to HIV. If you want to get tested for HIV antibodies, you need to remember the last date that you believe you were at risk for HIV infection. The New York State Department of Health recommends that a person be tested 30 days after possible exposure, and then again at three months. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which monitors the presence of HIV disease throughout the country, recommends that a person be tested three months after possible exposure, and then again at six months after exposure.
What is the OraSure® test?
There are some people who avoid taking an HIV antibody test because they dislike having their blood drawn. The OraSure® HIV antibody test is another way of testing for HIV, without drawing blood. OraSure® is an HIV antibody test that uses a swab to retrieve cells from the inside of the cheek and gums. The cells are then tested for HIV antibodies. This method of testing is as accurate as the standard blood test for HIV antibodies.
What is the female condom?
The female condom, also known as Reality®, is a device that gives women control with the use of a barrier to protect against HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy during sexual intercourse. Reality® is made out of polyurethane, and is inserted into the vagina. Reality® is a bag, or pouch, that allows the penis to enter the vagina and ejaculate inside without having an exchange of fluids. The woman's vaginal secretions and blood (if present) stay on the outside of the bag, and the semen stays inside. The female condom can be inserted up to 8 hours before intercourse. It is inserted very much like a diaphragm. Each female condom can only be used once. Each act of intercourse, a new Reality® condom should be used.
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