What is Safe, Safer, and Unsafe Sex?
What is safe sex?
There is no risk of contracting HIV through sex if:
- None of the sexual partners have HIV
- Partners engage in casual or sensual massage
- Partners engage in mutual masturbation
- Partners engage in fantasy talk
- No sex occurs that involves anal, vaginal, or oral sex or sharing of the infectious fluids.
What is safer sex?
Most sexual activity carries some risk for HIV infection. To reduce risk, make it harder for blood or sexual fluid to enter the body.
- Use barriers. The most common barrier is a male condom. Female condoms are also available for use in the vagina or anus. Dental dams are a useful barrier for oral sex. Please see our condom page for proper storage and use of condoms and dental dams.
- Limit the amount of sexual partners. Fewer partners means lowering the chance of infection.
- Always clean sex toys and use new condoms with them if applicable.
- Get tested for other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). Having an STI makes one more susceptible for HIV infection (open sores, or lowered immune function).
- Be aware of your body and your partner’s body. Cuts, sores, or bleeding gums can make it more likely an HIV infected fluid will enter the blood stream. Rough sex also increases this risk.
- Using drugs or alcohol prior to having sex can inhibit judgment. Limit use of substances or have plans in place to use other methods of protection if substances are going to be used.
- Have oral sex instead of anal or vaginal sex. Unprotected oral sex is a much lower risk for HIV infection than is anal or vaginal sex, though it is still a risk. Using dental dams or condoms keeps this activity safer. If those are not available, be aware of any cuts or sores on the mouth as this could make it more likely for HIV transmission to occur. Not brushing or flossing teeth prior to performing oral sex on a partner can lower the risk as well.
- There is medication available for HIV negative individuals who are at high risk of infection who would like to lower their risk of contracting HIV. This is called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and can be accessed through your doctor. This medication is not right for everyone. If you would like to learn more please see our page on PrEP and PEP.
- If you think you have been exposed to HIV, there may be a medication you can take to lower the chance of HIV taking hold in your body. It must be started within 72 hours of exposure. This is called PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis). Please see our page on PrEP and PEP to learn more.
- If you are HIV positive and are on HIV medications, you may be lowering your risk of transmitting HIV to your partner. Those with lower viral loads are less likely to transmit the virus, though it is not impossible even if your virus is controlled. Talk to your HIV doctor to find out how your virus is doing on the medications you are on.
- Be prepared to have sometimes difficult or vulnerable conversations around sex. Practice with yourself beforehand or talk with friends to become more comfortable in being able to discuss body parts, testing, and what your limits are.
Postpone sex until partners have been tested for HIV, taking into account the tests’ window period.
What is unsafe sex?
Most sexual activity carries some risk for HIV infection. Unprotected anal and vaginal sex with someone of unknown HIV status or who is HIV positive carries a high risk. Transmission happens when one of the 5 infectious fluids comes into contact with a mucus membrane. Receptive partners are more at risk, however, it is still possible for other partners to be infected as well, especially if there are any open sores or cuts on the genitals.
Unprotected oral sex is a much lower risk but it is still a risk. That’s because one of the 5 fluids could come in contact with the mouth, which is a mucus membrane. Using barriers such as dental dams or condoms can lower the risk of transmitting HIV through oral sex.