HIV 101

What is HIV?

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus.   Unlike some other viruses, the human body cannot get rid of HIV. That means that once you have HIV, you have it for life. 

HIV attacks the body’s immune system. Over time, HIV can destroy many CD4 cells ("T cells"). These special cells help the immune system fight off infections. This damage to the immune system makes it harder for the body to fight off infections and other diseases.

HIV is the virus that can lead to a condition called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS.  Opportunistic infections or cancers can take advantage of the weakened immune system which HIV causes, resulting in someone having AIDS.

No cure exists for HIV, but with proper medical care HIV can be managed.  Just like when someone has diabetes, medical treatment can allow someone living with HIV to have a long, happy, and fulfilling life.  

HIV Treatment = HIV Prevention.  HIV Treatment can  greatly lower the chance of passing HIV to others.  If someone with HIV takes their medication regularly and is consistently able to maintain "undetectable" levels of virus in their blood, it is nearly impossible for them to pass the virus to someone else.

How is HIV Transmitted?

Only certain body fluids from a person who has HIV can transmit HIV during sex.  Saliva and sweat are body fluids that do not transmit HIV.  

The fluids that do transmit HIV can be thought of as "boy and girl juices," which are:

  • blood
  • cum (semen)
  • pre-cum (pre-seminal fluid)
  • vaginal fluids
  • breast milk

HIV can be transmitted when one of these fluids come in contact with a mucous membrane inside the rectum, vagina, penis, and mouth, or with damaged tissue or an open sore.  

HIV can also be directly injected into the bloodstream through activities like sharing needles, syringe, or injection equipment.  If you use injection drugs, it is important to never re-use or share needles or equipment. 

Anal sex has the highest-risk for HIV — and bottoming is riskier than topping. 

Oral sex has a low risk for HIV.   However, several factors may increase that risk: 

  • sores in the mouth, vagina, or penis
  • bleeding gums
  • oral contact with menstrual blood
  • having other STIs (gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HPV, herpes, etc.)