March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This day was created to recognize the special risks HIV/AIDS pose for women and girls and to raise awareness of how the disease impacts them. Women of all ages can get HIV/AIDS, and they account for approximately 24 percent of all HIV diagnoses. Today, women represent a larger share of new HIV infections than they did earlier in the epidemic, with nearly 280,000 women living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Women of color are particularly affected, as they accounted for two-thirds (64%) of new AIDS diagnoses among women in 2010. (www.womens health.gov.)
As grim as those statistics may sound, there are things you can do to stay healthy.
Use a condom. Using a latex condom every time you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex reduces your risk of HIV. Other forms of birth control don’t protect you from getting HIV. Male and female condoms are the only effective form of birth control that also helps reduce the risk of transmission for HIV and most other STDs. A recent CDC report shows Chlamydia rates in women have doubled in the last decade, even though condoms can reduce the risk of getting or giving chlamydia. If you do have sex, use a latex condom every time. Don’t have sex when you are taking drugs or drinking alcohol because being high or intoxicated can make you more likely to make unsafe sexual decisions.
If you take drugs intravenously, don’t share needles, syringes and related works or anything else that might bring you into contact with someone else’s blood or bodily fluids.
Being sexually active with only one person who has agreed to be sexually active only with you is one of the best ways to protect yourself from HIV. Your chances of getting HIV will also be lower if both of you have recently tested negative for HIV. Also, talk to your partner about sex and HIV. Learn as much as you can about their past behavior (sex and drug use) and consider the risks to your health before you have sex. If you think you may have been exposed to another STD such as gonorrhea, syphilis, or chlamydia, get tested. Being infected with other STDs makes you two to five times more likely to get HIV as a person who doesn’t have any STDs. So get tested (and treated, if necessary) for STDs. LIAAC provides free HIV and STD testing. To find out where you can get tested, check out the events section of our Facebook page, or call our hotline at 1-877-865-4222.