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How do you get HIV from sex?

HIV is transmitted through semen (cum and pre-cum), vaginal fluid, blood, and anal mucus. During sex without a condom the bodily fluids from one person can pass into the body of their sexual partner. This can happen through the mucous membranes of the penis, vagina and rectum, or sores in the mouth and throat.

You can only get HIV from someone who is living with HIV and has a detectable viral load.

Do some types of sex have more HIV risk?

Anal sex and HIV

Anal sex has the biggest HIV risk because the lining of the anus is more delicate than the lining of the vagina. This means it is more easily damaged, providing an easier route for HIV to enter the body. Receptive anal sex (‘bottoming’) carries more risk than insertive anal sex (‘topping’).

Vaginal sex and HIV

Both male and female partners can get HIV from vaginal sex. The risk of getting and passing on HIV through vaginal sex increases during menstruation.

Oral sex and HIV

The risk of getting HIV from unprotected oral sex is extremely low. It only poses a risk if the person giving oral sex has mouth ulcers, sores or bleeding gums, or the person receiving oral sex has sores on their genitals.

Sex toys, fingering, fisting and HIV

Sex toys, such as dildos, come into direct contact with rectal/vaginal fluids and mucous membranes. This means sharing an uncleaned dildo or other toy can pass on HIV. Using sex toys on your own has no risk.

There is no direct risk of HIV from fingering or fisting (unless you have open cuts or sores on your hands), but be aware of being rough. Damage to anal/vaginal tissues, especially if there is any bleeding, will increase risk of HIV transmission if you then have anal, vaginal or oral sex later.

Kissing and HIV

There is such a small amount of HIV in the saliva of a person living with HIV that the infection can’t be passed on from kissing.

Other factors

Having multiple sexual partners and/or STIs also increases the risk of HIV infection through sex if you are not using other protection.

How can I avoid getting HIV from unprotected sex?


Condoms are the most effective way of preventing transmission of HIV and other STIs.

They can be used during vaginal and anal sex as well as on a penis during oral sex. They should be put on before any sexual contact as HIV can be passed on through pre-cum, vaginal fluid, and from anal mucus.

Both internal (female) and external (male) condoms are available so you can experiment and use whichever works best for you.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

PrEP is a pill taken by HIV-negative people to prevent HIV. It contains antiretroviral drugs that stop the virus from taking hold in your body.

PrEP is taken by people who have a higher risk of getting HIV, this can include people in a relationship with someone living with HIV, or people who belong to groups who are more at-risk of HIV infection – such as men who have sex with men, and young women in many countries in Southern Africa.

Ask a healthcare professional if you want to know if PrEP would be right for you. PrEP is not currently available everywhere, but access is expanding.

When taken properly PrEP virtually eliminates the risk of getting HIV. PrEP won’t protect you against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) suc



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