1. Does having another STI place a person at greater risk of infection if they are exposed to HIV?

Yes. In particular, infections that cause sores on the genitals such as chancroid and syphilis increase a person’s risk of becoming infected if exposed to HIV. Other STIs, too, can increase the risk of HIV infection.

2. Does using a condom only some of the time offer any protection from STIs, including HIV?

For best protection, a condom should be used with every act of sex. In some cases, however, occasional use can be protective. For example, if a person has a regular, faithful partner and has one act of sex outside of the relationship, using a condom for that one act can be very protective. For people who are frequently exposed to STIs, including HIV, however, using a condom only some of the time will offer only limited protection.

3. Who is more at risk of becoming infected with an STI, men or women?

If exposed to STIs, women are more likely to become infected than men due to biological factors. Women have a greater area of exposure than men (the cervix and the vagina), and small tears may occur in the vaginal tissue during sex, making an easy pathway for infection.

4. Can STIs be transmitted through oral sex (mouth on penis or vagina)?

Yes. Herpes, syphilis, hepatitis B, chlamydia, and gonorrhea can be transmitted through oral sex.

5. Can STIs be transmitted through anal sex (penis in anus)?

Yes. STIs, including HIV, are commonly transmitted through anal sex. Unprotected anal sex carries the highest sexual risk of HIV transmission.

6. Can HIV be transmitted through hugging? Shaking hands? Mosquito bites?

HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact. This includes closed mouth kissing, hugging, shaking hands, and sharing food, clothing, or toilet seats. The virus cannot survive long outside of the human body. Mosquitoes cannot transmit HIV, either.

7. Is there any truth to rumors that condoms are coated with HIV?

No, these rumors are false. Some condoms are covered with a wet or a powder-like material such as spermicide or cornstarch, but these are materials used for lubrication, to make sex smoother.

8. Will having sex with a virgin cure someone with an STI, including HIV?

No. Instead, this practice only risks infecting the person who has not yet had sex.

9. Will washing the penis or vagina after sex lower the risk of becoming infected with an STI?

Genital hygiene is important and a good practice. There is no evidence, however, that washing the genitals prevents STI infection. In fact, vaginal douching increases a woman’s risk of acquiring STIs, including HIV, and pelvic inflammatory disease. If exposure to HIV is certain, treatment with antiretroviral medications (post-exposure prophylaxis), where available, can help reduce HIV transmission. If exposure to other STIs is certain, a provider can treat presumptively for those STIs—that is, treat the client as if he or she were infected.

10. Why is it especially important to prevent HIV infection during pregnancy?

If a woman becomes infected with HIV during pregnancy, the chances that HIV will be transmitted to her baby during pregnancy, delivery, and childbirth may be at their highest because she will have a high level of virus in her blood. If a pregnant woman thinks that she may have HIV, she should seek HIV testing. Resources may be available to help her prevent transmitting HIV to her baby during pregnancy, delivery, and childbirth. It is not clear whether a woman who is exposed to HIV is more likely to become infected if she is pregnant.

11. Is pregnancy especially risky for women with HIV and their infants?

Pregnancy will not make the woman’s condition worse. HIV infection may increase some health risks of pregnancy, however, and may also affect the health of the infant. Women living with HIV are at greater risk of developing anemia and infection after vaginal delivery or caesarean section. The level of risk depends on such factors as a woman’s health during pregnancy, her nutrition, and the medical care she receives. Also, the risk of these health problems increases if HIV infection progresses. Further, women living with HIV are at greater risk of having preterm births, stillbirths, and low birthweight babies.

12. How well do condoms help protect against HIV infection?

On average, condoms are 80% to 95% effective in protecting people from HIV infection when used correctly with every act of sex. This means that condom use prevents 80% to 95% of HIV transmissions that would have occurred without condoms. (It does not mean that 5% to 20% of condom users will become infected with HIV.) For example, among 10,000 uninfected women whose partners have HIV, if each couple has vaginal sex just once and has no additional risk factors for infection, on average:

  • If all 10,000 did not use condoms, about 10 women would likely become infected with HIV.
  • If all 10,000 used condoms correctly, 1 or 2 women would likely become infected with HIV.

The chances that a person who is exposed to HIV will become infected can vary greatly. These chances depend on the partner’s stage of HIV infection (early and late stages are more infectious), whether the person exposed has other STIs (increases susceptibility), and male circumcision status (uncircumcised men are more likely to become infected with HIV), among other factors. On average, women face twice the risk of infection, if exposed, that men do.