It’s time to rock the red pump or at least rock some red shoes for National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness day! Nothing’s wrong with a gimmick and some fun to bring attention to and get us talking about the serious impact HIV/AIDS has on women and girls.
Every 47 minutes, a woman tests positive for HIV in the United States. That’s 30 women who test positive for HIV every day! There has been incredible progress made in understanding HIV, how to prevent contracting the virus in the first place, and treatments for HIV that help keep HIV from becoming AIDS. But the fact that we still have such a high rate of new infections indicates that we are not doing all that we can to keep ourselves safe.
It’s not easy or comfortable talking about the risks and behaviors that set up someone for becoming infected. Non-consensual sex, sex without a condom, and unknown and/or high-risk behaviors of partners are major risk factors that may lead to HIV infection. Teen dating violence, intimate partner violence, substance abuse, and condom use are not common, casual conversation starters.
You may not think you know someone with HIV, but the odds are you do. Someone at work, in your neighborhood, among your friends, in your family, and yes, even at your church.
What puts women and girls at risk? The facts:
- Some women may be unaware of their partner’s risk factors for HIV (such as injection drug use or having sex with other men) and may not use condoms. In some cases, women may be afraid that their partner will leave them or even physically abuse them if they try to talk about condom use.
- Vaginal sex without a condom carries a much higher HIV risk for women than for men, and anal sex without a condom is riskier for women than vaginal sex without a condom. More than one in five young women in one survey reported anal sex in the past year.
- Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) greatly increase a woman’s chance of getting or spreading HIV.
- Exchanging sex for drugs, having multiple partners, or having sex with a partner who is physically abusive when asked to use a condom all increase risk of HIV.
- Some HIV infections among women are due to injection drug and other substance use—either directly (by sharing drug injection equipment contaminated with HIV) or indirectly (by engaging in high-risk behaviors while under the influence of drugs or alcohol).
- A higher percentage of African American and Hispanic/Latino women are living with HIV compared to other races/ethnicities. This coupled with the fact that women tend to have sex with partners of their same race/ethnicity increases the risk of HIV infection with each new sexual encounter.
What can women do? Be empowered:
- Get tested for HIV. To find a testing site near you, call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636), visit hivtest.cdc.gov, or text your ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948). You can also use a home testing kit.
- Choose not to have sex or choose to have sex with one partner and agree to be sexually active only with each other. It is still important that you and your partner get tested for HIV, and share your test results with one another before you make the decision to have sex.
- If you currently have more than one partner, make the choice to limit the number of people you have sex with. The fewer partners you have, the less likely you are to have sex with someone who is infected with HIV or another STI.
- Use condoms correctly every time you have sex.
- Choose less risky sexual behaviors. Anal and vaginal sex are the highest-risk sexual activities for HIV transmission. Oral sex carries much less risk.
- Get tested and treated for STIs and insist that your partners do too. Having an STI increases the risk of getting or spreading HIV.
- Talk to your doctor about HIV medicine to prevent HIV infection (known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) if you routinely have sex without a condom with someone who may be HIV-positive.
- See a doctor right away (within 3 days) if you have a single experience of sex without a condom with someone who is or may be HIV-positive. Starting medicine immediately (known as post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP) and taking it for about a month reduces the chance of getting HIV.
- Do not share injection drug equipment, such as needles, syringes, or works.
- If you are HIV-positive, start treatment as soon as possible with antiretroviral therapy (ART), and stay on treatment. ART can lower the level of virus in your body enough to improve your health and prevent you from spreading HIV to your partners.
Here are the stories of five women like you and me who are living with HIV.