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HIV & sex

Michael Carter

This booklet is an introduction to sexual health for people with HIV. Part 1 looks at sexual health from a broad perspective and explains why having HIV needn’t stop you having and enjoying sex. The booklet describes the ways that having HIV can affect how you feel about sex, and suggests ways to tackle problems or anxieties you may experience.

Part 2 explains why good physical sexual health is important for people living with HIV, and outlines the steps you can take to protect your own health and that of other people. There’s also information on the impact of HIV treatment on your risk of passing on HIV. Part 3 provides information on specific sexually transmitted infections.

This booklet is not intended to replace discussion with your doctor or your healthcare team – but it might help you decide what questions you would like answered. You might also want to discuss some of the issues covered here with partners, friends and support agencies.

HIV & Sex is also available online in Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Swedish.

  • Part I: HIV, sex and you

    Paying attention to sexual health when you have HIV doesn’t just mean taking steps to prevent passing on the virus to someone else. It doesn’t only mean...

  • HIV, sex and the law

    In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, if you know you are HIV-positive, and you have unprotected sex without telling your sexual partner about your HIV status, and your...

  • How might you feel about sex after an HIV diagnosis?

    Although it’s not certain to happen, many people find that their feelings about sex change after they find out they have HIV. It could be that your...

  • Dealing with sexual problems

    The way you feel about sex, and your ability to have sex, are affected by a number of factors. These include psychological issues, such as how you...

  • Relationships with an HIV-negative partner

    Often, HIV-positive people have partners who are HIV-negative (these are sometimes referred to as ‘serodiscordant’ relationships). Relationships between people of different HIV status are sometimes thought of only in...

  • Part II: HIV and preventing sexual transmission

    Part 2 explains why good physical sexual health is important for people living with HIV, and outlines the steps you can take to protect your own health...

  • Anal sex

    Unprotected (i.e. without a condom) anal sex is one of the highest-risk means of passing on HIV. The chances of a man passing on HIV during unprotected anal...

  • Vaginal sex

    Vaginal sex without condoms is a high-risk route for passing on HIV for both the man and the woman. The risk is greater for the woman, probably...

  • Oral sex

    The risk of transmitting HIV by oral sex is much less clear. The Health Protection Agency, which monitors HIV in the UK, estimates that about 1 to 3%...

  • Other sexual activities

    There are plenty of sexual activities that are completely safe. Kissing and caressing present no risk of passing on HIV, for example. A partner masturbating you carries no...

  • Condoms

    Condoms and female condoms provide excellent protection against HIV and most other sexually transmitted infections. To be effective, they need to be used correctly. Most male condoms are made...

  • Undetectable viral load and infectiousness

    The goal of HIV treatment is an undetectable HIV viral load. This does not mean that you have been cured of HIV, but that the combination of...

  • Reinfection

    In addition to sexually transmitted infections, unprotected sex can carry other health risks for HIV-positive people. There have been cases reported where a person with HIV has been...

  • Using anti-HIV drugs to prevent infection – PEP and PrEP

    If a person is exposed to HIV during sex, many sexual health (GUM) and HIV clinics can provide them with a short course of anti-HIV drugs to...

  • Contraception, conception and pregnancy

    Properly used male and female condoms are highly effective at preventing pregnancy, as well as the transmission of HIV and most sexually transmitted infections. Several anti-HIV drugs and...

  • Part III: HIV and other sexually transmitted infections

    Remaining free of sexually transmitted infections is important for everyone’s health, but it is especially important if you have HIV. This is because sexually transmitted infections can not...

  • Sexual health check-ups

    If you are sexually active, it is important to have regular sexual health check-ups. These are free and confidential. Many HIV clinics have sexual health clinics (sometimes called...

  • Sexually transmitted infections

    This section contains a brief explanation of how common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed on, their symptoms and their treatment. Sexually transmitted infections can be caused by bacteria,...

  • Summary

    Sexual health is about more than freedom from sexually transmitted infections. Good sexual health also involves being happy about your sexuality, your choices and opportunities, and the sex...

HIV & sex

Published February 2011

Last reviewed February 2011

Next review February 2014

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.