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Learn About Safer Sex


Know about what behaviors increase your risk of becoming infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). Learn about AIDS and the specific actions you can take to protect yourself from becoming infected. Let’s begin with the basics.

What is AIDS?
AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, a disease in which the body’s immune system breaks down. The immune system fights off infections and certain other diseases. Because the system fails, a person with AIDS gets illnesses the body can't fight.

AIDS is Caused by HIV Infection
AIDS is caused by the virus called the human imunodeficiency virus, or HIV. A virus is a small germ that can cause disease. If HIV enters your body, you may become infected with HIV. A blood test can detect HIV antibodies if you are infected. Antibodies are substances your body makes to fight an infection. A person who is infected can infect others, even if no symptoms are present. You cannot tell by looking at someone whether he or she is infected with HIV. An infected person can appear completely healthy. Even when no symptoms are visible, however, anyone infected with HIV should be under a doctor’s care. People infected with HIV can develop health problems. These can include extreme weight loss, severe pneumonia, forms of cancer, and damage to the nervous system. These illnesses signal the onset of AIDS. In some people, these illnesses may develop within a year or two. Others may stay healthy for as long as 10 or more years before symptoms appear. Early medical treatment may prolong a person’s life. No one will develop AIDS unless he or she has been infected with HIV. By preventing HIV infection, we can prevent AIDS. You can become infected with HIV having sexual intercourse vaginal, anal, or perhaps oral with an infected person.

How Do You Get HIV From Anal or Vaginal Intercourse?
HIV can be spread through unprotected sexual intercourse, from male to male or male to female. Female-to-female sexual transmission is possible, but rare. Unprotected sexual intercourse means sexual intercourse without correct and consistent condom use. HIV may be in an infected person’s blood, semen, pre-cum, or vaginal secretions. It is thought that it can enter the body through cuts or sores some so small you don’t know they’re there on tissue in the vagina, penis, or rectum, and possibly the mouth.

Can I Become Infected with HIV from Oral Sex?
It is possible. Oral sex often involves pre-cum, semen or vaginal secretions that contain HIV. HIV is transmitted by the introduction of infected pre-cum, semen, or vaginal secretions into another person’s body. During oral sex, the virus could enter the body through tiny cuts or sores in the mouth.

How Can I Tell If the Person I am Dating has been Infected with HIV?
The simple answer is, you can’t. If you are thinking about becoming sexually involved with someone, here are some important questions to consider: Has this person had any sexually transmitted diseases? How many people has he or she had sex with? Has he or she experimented with drugs? All of these are sensitive questions. But they are important, and you have a responsibility to ask. You should think of it this way: If you know someone well enough to have sex, the two of you should be able to talk about HIV infection and AIDS. If someone is unwilling to talk, you shouldn’t have sex. And remember, if you do decide to have sex, always have safer sex and use a condom!

What Are Ways by which You Cannot Get HIV and AIDS?
HIV infection doesn’t just happen. You can't simply catch it like a cold or flu. Unlike cold or flu viruses, HIV is not spread by coughs or sneezes. You won’t get HIV through everyday contact with infected people at school, work, home, or anywhere else. You won’t get HIV from clothes, phones, or toilet seats. It can’t be passed on by things like spoons, cups, or other objects that someone who is infected with the virus has used. You cannot get it from everyday contact with an infected person. You won’t get AIDS from a mosquito bite. The AIDS virus does not live in a mosquito, and it is not transmitted through a mosquito’s salivary glands. You won’t get it from bed bugs, lice, flies, or other insects. You won’t get HIV from sweat, tears, or sneezes either.

Can I become Infected with HIV from French Kissing?
Not likely. HIV occasionally can be found in saliva, but in very low concentrations, so low that scientists believe it is virtually impossible to transmit HIV infection by deep kissing. The possibility exists that cuts or sores in the mouth may provide direct access for HIV to enter the bloodstream during prolonged deep kissing. There has never been a single case documented in which HIV was transmitted by kissing. Scientists, however, cannot absolutely rule out the possibility of transmission during prolonged, deep kissing because of possible blood contact but the chances are extremely unlikely.

As Long as I Use a Latex Condom Every Time I Have Sex I Won't Get HIV Infection, right?
Latex condoms have been shown to prevent HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. You have to use them properly. And you have to use them every time you have sex: vaginal, anal, and oral. It is highly unlikely to get HIV if you use a condom every time, but on rare occasions they can break. The only sure way to avoid infection HIV is to abstain from sexual intercourse, or engage in sexual intercourse only with someone who is not infected.

What Is the Proper Way to Use a Condom?
You can significantly decrease your chances of infection with HIV or any other sexually transmitted disease if you follow this list of simple instructions:

Use a latex condom every time you have sex: anal, oral, and vaginal. Latex serves as a barrier to the virus. Don't use lambskin or natural membrane condoms, which are not effective because of the pores in the material. Look for the word latex on the package. And if you are having anal sex, buy thicker condoms that can withstand the friction of anal sex.

As soon as the penis becomes erect, put the condom on it. Leave a small space in the top of the condom to catch the semen, or use a condom with a reservoir tip. Remove any air that remains in the tip by gently pressing toward the base of the penis. When you use a lubricant, which is a must for anal sex, check the label to make sure it is water-based. Do not use vasoline or petroleum-based jelly, cold cream, baby oil, chocolate syrup, or other lubricants such as cooking oil or shortening. These weaken the latex condom and can cause it to break. If you feel the condom break while you are having sex, stop immediately and pull out. Do not continue until you have put on a new condom. After climax (ejaculation), withdraw while the penis is still erect, holding on to the rim of the condom while pulling out so that it doesn’t come off. Never use a condom more than once. Don’t use a condom that is brittle or that has been stored near heat or in your wallet or glove compartment for a long time. Check the package for date of expiration. A condom can’t do you any good if you don’t have one when you need it. So have plenty around where you could have sex.

What Do I Do If I Think I am Infected with HIV?
Remember, you must have engaged in behaviors that place you at risk for HIV infection. Those behaviors include having unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person. If you are concerned, you need to talk to someone about getting an HIV test that will determine if you are infected. That person might be a doctor, or other health care provider, or someone who works at an AIDS counseling and testing center. Call the Center for Disease Control National AIDS Hotline (1-800-342-AIDS) to find out where you can go in your area to get counseling about an HIV test. You don’t have to give your name, and the call is free.

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