...in perception, that is.
Women are petrified of an accidental pregnancy, but do not show as much concern regarding their chances of acquiring HIV or other STDs. The very behaviors that may lead to pregnancy (unprotected sex, birth control failure) can also lead to HIV transmission.
Based on my assumption, most of the "pregnancy-scare" questions received on EmpowHER are likely from women between the ages of 13 to 29.
Women, ages 13 to 29, make up one quarter of all new HIV infections. (1)
These women are not in an underdeveloped country, where access to information or condoms may be scarce. These women are in the United States.
Why are more women not concerned with their personal risk for HIV?
Do you think this epidemic is due to lack of information, lack of condom availability, or something more complex? Are women afraid or unsure how to negotiate with their partners to use condoms?
What can you do to empower yourself, right now, to lower your personal risk of not only pregnancy, but also acquiring HIV or other STDs? Answer: Know your personal risk. Learn prevention strategies. Receive HIV screening.
1. Know Your Personal Risk: What Type of Sex Can I Have?
Having unprotected receptive sex is riskier than non-receptive sex. In heterosexual couples, women are the "receptors" during vaginal-penile sex. In all heterosexual and LGBT individuals, receptive anal sex would be the riskiest sex act. Recently, a young women wrote to EmpowHER, saying, "my friends and I remain virgins by engaging in oral and anal sex, so we know we are still okay for marriage". This is shocking, since unprotected receptive anal sex is the riskiest sexual behavior, regardless of sexual orientation.
What are the least risky sexual behaviors? Kissing, sexual massage, masturbation (alone), masturbation (together) and receiving oral sex.
2. Prevention: Lower Your Risk and Protect Yourself
Correct and consistent use of condoms are the most effective method to reduce risk of HIV infection during sexual activity. Learning how to use a male condom (Help! The Condom Broke: How to Prevent Wardrobe Malfunctions) can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by 80 percent. (2) Learning condom negotiation communication skills so you and your partner can be safer. (Condom Negotiation: Tips and Scripts of What to Say).
3. What if I Have a Symptom?
If you have any symptoms that may indicate an STD or STI, go to the doctor for treatment as soon as possible. (How to Detect and Treat STDs). Luckily, most STIs and STDs are treatable. Your personal risk for acquiring HIV is higher if you have an untreated STI or STD (such as herpes or gonorrhea), as it substantially increases a person's chance of acquiring HIV.
What type of HIV screening test is recommended? I have had at least two HIV screening tests, as it is recommended for pregnant women (as early as possible in the pregnancy). According to the Centers for Disease Control website, "In most cases the EIA (enzyme immunoassay), used on blood drawn from a vein, is the most common screening test used to look for antibodies to HIV. A positive (reactive) EIA must be used with a follow-up (confirmatory) test such as the Western blot to make a positive diagnosis." HIV Screening and Testing (CDC).
Women are not immune from HIV/AIDS; in fact, we are more susceptible to acquiring HIV and other STDs. Know your personal risk, and be safe!
(1) CDC. Estimates of new HIV infections in the United States. August 2008. Available at: www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/resources/factsheets/pdf/incidence.pdf
(2) Weller S, Davis, K. Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission (Cochrane Review). In: The Cochrane Library, Issue 4, 2003. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.