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What is 'safer sex'

for Veterans and the Public

What is 'safer sex'?

We know a lot about how HIV is transmitted from person to person. Having safer sex means you take this into account and avoid risky practices.

There are two reasons to practice safer sex: to protect yourself and to protect others.

Protecting yourself

If you have HIV, you need to protect your health. When it comes to sex, this means practicing safer sex (like using condoms) to avoid sexually transmitted diseases like herpes and hepatitis. HIV makes it harder for your body to fight off diseases. What might be a small health problem for someone without HIV could be big health problem for you. Your VA provider can prescribe condoms for you if you need them.

Protecting your partner

Taking care of others means making sure that you do not pass HIV or any other sexually transmitted infections to them.

"Being safe" usually means protecting yourself and others by using condoms for the highest-risk sex activities, specifically for anal and vaginal sex. When done correctly, condom use is very effective at preventing HIV transmission. In recent years, "being safe" has come to include two other important strategies for reducing HIV infections:

  1. HIV treatment (ART medications) for people with HIV and,
  2. PrEP for HIV negative people (see below). Both are very effective at reducing the risk of HIV infection. One or more of them is likely to be appropriate for your situation — be sure to ask your health care provider for more information.

What about antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV prevention?

One of the most effective ways you can prevent HIV from passing to an HIV-negative sex partner is to take your ART (HIV medications) every day. If they are working well to suppress the HIV in your body they also will prevent transmission of HIV to others. Learn more about ART as a prevention strategy.

What about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)?

HIV-negative individuals may, under the supervision of their health care provider, take a pill every day to prevent HIV infection. We call this pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. Usually these are persons who are at relatively high risk of becoming infected with HIV (for example, because they have a partner with HIV, they have risky sexual exposures, or they share injection drug equipment). The medications used for PrEP are Truvada and Descovy. PrEP appears to be extremely effective if it is taken every day, and is not effective if it is taken irregularly. Your VA health care provider can tell you more about PrEP.