Charts from Smart Sex Resource estimate a person's chances of getting an STI when his/her partner has that STI.
Reducing the Risk
There are a number of strategies that you can share with youth on how to reduce their risk of getting HIV from a sex partner. Teaching them about these strategies can improve their knowledge about sexual health and provide them with skills to engage in safer sexual activities.
The following are key strategies to address the most risky behaviors. Encourage them to:
- Abstain from sex. Not having vaginal, anal, or oral sex is the surest way to avoid HIV, however with sexually active youth this message can feel like an uphill battle. This message of abstinence is an important one but not the only message.
- Choose less risky sexual behaviors. The risk of getting HIV can vary depending on the type of sexual activity. For instance, oral sex carries a lower risk of contracting HIV than anal or vaginal sex. Anal sex poses the highest risk for getting HIV, however the risks differ for insertive anal sex ("topping") versus receptive anal sex ("bottoming"). To find out more about the risks associated with different types of sexual activity and a good resource to refer youth to, see Understanding Risk Activities from the HIV.gov website.
- Use condoms every time. When used correctly and in every sexual encounter, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV. Encourage youth to carry protection with them, not to rely on their partner to have it, and use it for all types of sexual activity.
- Reduce the number of sexual partners. The risk of getting HIV increases with the number of sex partners adolescents have. The more partners, the more likely there is to be one with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a partner whose HIV is not virally suppressed. Both factors can increase the risk of getting HIV.
- Do not mix drinking or using drugs with sex. Youth who drink and/or use drugs may be more likely to take risks, such as not using protection during sexual activity, when they are drunk or high. This can increase their risk of getting HIV or other STIs. For more on the risks of using different types of drugs, see the HIV.gov Substance Abuse/Use page.
Getting Tested and Talking to Health Care Providers
In addition to getting tested for HIV, there are steps adolescents can take to help prevent HIV, know what to do if they have been exposed, and how to help a partner living with HIV. Encourage youth to:
- Get tested and treated for other STIs and encourage all partners to do the same. For adolescents that are thinking about becoming sexually active and for those who already are, encourage them to get tested for STIs at least once a year. Talk to them about how to ask their partner(s) to do the same. Help them find an HIV or STD testing site.
- Talk to a health care provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is an HIV medication for high-risk HIV-negative people who have HIV-positive partners; it should be taken daily to prevent HIV infection.
- Talk to a health care provider right away (within 3 days) about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if have come into contact with HIV. Starting PEP immediately after a possible exposure and taking it daily for 4 weeks can reduce the chances of getting HIV.
- If partners are HIV-positive, encourage them to get and stay on HIV treatment. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) reduces the HIV viral load in blood and bodily fluids. If taken regularly, ART can keep people living with HIV stable and healthy for many years. It also significantly reduces the chance of HIV transmission to sex partners. Find out more about the HIV Care Continuum.
Strategies for Talking to Partners
Negotiating safer sex can be a tough conversation. It is important to teach youth strategies on how to talk with their partner about using protection and if they have an STI or HIV. Walking through different questions (and answers) gives youth practical strategies to reduce their risk of getting pregnant, a STI, or HIV. Ask them about other issues they have faced during sexual encounters. The Office of Women's Health outlines the following statements:
|If your partner says:||You say:|
|"Trust me...I don't have any diseases."||"It's not about trust. Some people have STIs/HIV and don't even know it because they have no symptoms. Using a condom will protect both of us."|
|"Sex doesn't feel as good with a condom."||"Let's try another brand or style."|
|"Let's just try it this one time without a condom."||"It only takes one time to get a STI, HIV, or to get pregnant."|
|"I don't have a condom with me."||"That's okay. I do."|
There are also safer sexual activities where there is no exchange of body fluids. Teach adolescents about these alternatives to oral, anal, or vaginal sex:
- Massage, hugging, touching
- Social kissing (kissing with closed mouth)
- Rubbing against each other
- Fantasy (just thinking about sex)
- Kissing the body (clean skin, not sexual areas or open sores)
- Saying no to anything you don't feel comfortable doing
Reducing the risk of youth getting HIV requires that adult allies and the larger community be involved. Adults, including parents, can play a key role in helping youth learn how to protect themselves during sexual activity.