No matter how many sexual partners you have, protected sex is important. One thing you may not realise is that HIV treatment – which can be used by HIV positive and negative people – is a form of protection.
It's crucial that everyone understands what it means to have protected sex.
Protected sex means using a male or female condom during sex if one of you has HIV and a detectable viral load.
Condoms should be used with water-based lubricant as oil-based lube weakens them.
HIV treatment is also a form of protection.
How HIV treatment stops HIV being passed on:
Sex without a condom can also result in an unplanned pregnancy if other contraception is not being used.
The more sexual partners you have, the higher your risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
If your viral load is detectable you can also pass on HIV.
STIs can be harder to treat in people with HIV and, until you are treated, may push up your viral load (the level of HIV in your body) by small amounts. If STIs make the viral load detectable, this could make it more likely for you to pass on HIV if you have unprotected sex.
However, the PARTNER study looked at people on treatment who had viral loads below 200 copies/ml and found no HIV transmissions in that group regardless of the presence of STIs.
There are many reasons why people have lots of sexual partners, including enjoying the thrill of the chase or the need to feel desired. It may also be because they use drugs or alcohol which lower their inhibitions.
But drug and alcohol use can have a very negative impact on your body, as your immune system already needs help to keep you healthy because of your HIV status. Some drugs and heavy drinking can affect how well your immune system fights infections.
Drugs or alcohol can also make it more likely you will have risky sex and make decisions you wouldn’t normally make in these situations. If your judgement is being clouded then you might have unprotected sex.
If you’re having protected sex there’s no law saying you must tell people that you have HIV - it’s your choice whether you tell your sexual partners.
However, in England and Wales there is a risk of being prosecuted for reckless transmission of HIV if:
The law in Scotland is largely the same, except that a case can also be brought if transmission hasn’t taken place but someone has been put at risk of transmission without their consent or knowledge.
Our pages on unprotected sex and viral load and infectiousness have further details.
If you have having sex with lots of different partners, protected sex and not having sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol are all good steps to take. Remember that condoms will protect you from other STIs even if you have an undetectable viral load.
There’s more good advice in the Reducing sexual risks section.
You can also get advice and support from a counsellor or support groups - speak to our Online Counsellor for more information.
Gay and bisexual men who are worried about sex, dugs and alcohol can visit Friday/Monday.
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This article was last reviewed on
by Anna Peters
Date due for the next review: 8/4/2018
Content Author: Richard Scholey
Current Owner: Health Promotion
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