Unprotected sex with a male partner who has HIV is the most common way that women get HIV
Unprotected sex with a male partner who has HIV is the most common way that women get HIV. All unprotected sex with a partner who has HIV is risky. But unprotected anal sex is riskier than unprotected vaginal sex. Unprotected oral sex can also be risky, but it is less risky than anal or vaginal sex.
Women have a greater chance of becoming infected with HIV during unprotected vaginal sex with an HIV-infected partner than men do. There are several reasons for this:
- The vagina has a larger area that can be exposed to HIV-infected semen
- Semen can stay in the vagina for days after sex. This means a longer exposure to the virus for women
- Having other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that are untreated makes it more likely for a person to get HIV. This is especially true for women. Small cuts on the skin of the vagina are hard to notice but may allow HIV to pass into a woman's body.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) HIV treatment guidelines, the risk of spreading HIV through sex between a man and a woman is low when the partner infected with HIV has an undetectable viral load. This is true only if:
- HIV is completely suppressed and the viral load is undetectable
- The partner with HIV sticks to an effective HIV medication regimen
- Neither partner has any other sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- There is no other risky behavior being engaged in