How Easy Is HIV To Get and How Can I Protect Myself?

How easy is HIV to get?

It’s extremely difficult to give an exact risk of getting HIV. That’s because it depends on a number of factors, including how much of the virus is in the other person’s fluids and how it’s getting into your body (through what site). The important thing to know is that while each time you have unprotected sex with someone who is HIV positive the likelihood you’ll become infected is pretty low (an estimated 0.08 percent if an infected penis goes into your vagina, an estimated 0.04 percent if your penis goes into an infected vagina, and an estimated 1.4 percent if an infected penis goes into your butt), those numbers are true every time you do that act. So the risk can pile up if you’re having sex with an HIV positive person multiple times. It’s also important to remember that you can get infected the first time you have sex with someone.

It’s also important to take into account the amount of virus in the other person’s blood. When someone first gets infected, the virus goes all spring break on your body while your immune system scrambles to retaliate. During this time of primary HIV infection, you have a lot of copies of the virus in your system, which means you are very infectious to other people. With proper medication and care, you can get the number of these copies very low, reducing the likelihood of transmission significantly.

How Can I Protect Myself from HIV?

The only foolproof way of not getting an STD is not having sex in the first place. Since that’s not how most adults operate, the good news is that there are an increasing number of ways you can protect yourself against becoming infected with HIV, while still being able to connect sexually with your HIV positive partner.


Latex and polyurethane condoms (both male/external and female/internal types) are a literal physical barrier against HIV — the holes in those materials are too small for the virus to get through. However, the same isn’t true for lambskin condoms, which are more porous and allow HIV to pass through.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis

Possibly the most exciting and definitely the newest prevention tool available is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP. PrEP is kind of like the hormonal birth control pill but against HIV transmission, not pregnancy (so … sperm transmission?). PrEP is a pill you take every day, and if you do that you can be protected from HIV by up to 99 percent.

Post-Exposure Prophylaxis

If PrEP is like the birth control of HIV prevention, then Post-exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is like Plan B, or the morning after pill. You can start PEP within 72 hours of a potential exposure to HIV — such as a condom breaking, finding out your partner is HIV positive after you’ve slept with them, or experiencing sexual violence. PEP is a medication course of 28 days, and you need to complete all 28 days’ worth of pills. This solution isn’t 100 percent effective, but it does cut your risk for becoming infected significantly.

A Healthy Vagina

It’s easier for HIV to be transmitted in certain situations, like if you already have another STD, or bacterial vaginosis. So if you have an STD already, get it treated (if it’s curable) or learn how to manage it (if it’s one of those pesky ones you have for life).

Clean Needles

If your risk for getting HIV isn’t through sex but is because you use injectable drugs, protecting yourself is easy. Just don’t share your needles with anyone else, and don’t use a needle anyone else has used. HIV used to be way more commonly passed between people who use injectable drugs, but through needle exchange programsthis has been significantly diminished.


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