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Women of all ages can get HIV

a teen girl and a grandmother potting a flower together

Young women

Young women in the United States are at risk of getting HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than half of 13- to 24-year-olds living with HIV infection are undiagnosed. Some factors put young women at higher risk of HIV than older women. They include:

  • Biological reasons, such as how the vagina has a large area through which HIV can pass from semen. Also, young women and adolescents have immature reproductive systems, which may be more likely to receive HIV. Researchers are still studying the reasons that younger women get HIV easily.
  • You may not know about HIV or how to prevent it
  • You may have less power in your relationships. It may be hard to convince your partners to use condoms.
  • You may not know your partners' risk factors, such as a history of unprotected sex or injection drug use
  • You are more likely than older women to have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Having an STI can make someone more likely to get HIV. Small cuts on the skin of the vagina are hard to notice but may allow HIV to pass into a woman's body.

Many young people don't worry about becoming infected. HIV prevention efforts, including programs on abstinence, safer sex, and HIV screening, are key to stopping the spread of HIV in young people. The U.S. government tries to bring this information to both schools and communities. For instance, the "Healthy Youth" program from the CDC helps schools offer education and services to prevent HIV in students. On the state and local level, health departments might provide one of these CDC-tested programs for youth:

Government in action

Read about other CDC-tested prevention programs for youth at risk of HIV.
  • Street Smart is an HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention program for runaway and homeless youth between the ages of 11 and 18.
  • Community PROMISE (Peers Reaching Out and Modeling Intervention Strategies for HIV/AIDS Risk Reduction in their Community) is a community-level HIV prevention program. It relies on role-model stories and giving out supplies, like condoms and bleach, to reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex or injection drug use.
  • VOICES/VOCES promotes HIV and STI prevention through an educational video. The video encourages condom use and teaches ways to talk to partners about condoms. This program is targeted to heterosexual African-American and Latino men and women ages 18 and older.

Learn more about protecting your children from HIV.

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Women over 50

Other health concerns

Older women with HIV also need to think about other health problems, such as heart disease and osteoporosis. If you have HIV, talk to your doctor about steps you can take to lower your risk of these problems. Ask about screenings tests you might need as you age.

Twenty-four percent of people living with HIV are age 50 or older. If you are over 50, you may think that you are not at risk of HIV infection for some of these reasons:

  • You may not realize what HIV is or that it is still a health risk in the United States.
  • You may not know the term "sexually transmitted infections" or STIs. You were taught about "venereal diseases" or VD.
  • You may not know how to prevent HIV.
  • You may think you don't need to use condoms because you don't worry about getting pregnant. Or, you may be dating again after many years and don't know how to talk to your partner about using condoms.
  • You may think that only younger people are at risk of HIV infection. You might assume that your older sexual partners couldn't possibly have it.
  • Your doctor does not talk to you about your HIV risk.
  • You are uncomfortable talking about sex or HIV risk.
  • You don't know your partners' risk factors, such as a history of unprotected sex or injection drug use.

But anyone at any age can get HIV. In fact, if you are nearing or post-menopause, your vagina will not be as lubricated as normal. This means that you have a greater risk for tiny tears in your vagina during sex. These can make it easier for HIV to get in. If you have not been tested for HIV, don't wait. Get tested now. You might be at risk of HIV if:

  • You are sexually active and do not use condoms.
  • You have sex of any kind and do not know yours or your partner's HIV status.
  • You do not know your partner's drug and sexual history.
  • You have had a blood transfusion or operation in a developing country at any time.
  • You had a blood transfusion in the United States between 1978 and 1985.

You can lower your risk of HIV if both you and your partner know your HIV status, are faithful to each other, and do not inject drugs. Using condoms correctly and every time you have sex also lowers your risk. Learn more about steps you can take to protect yourself from HIV no matter what your age.

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More information on Women of all ages can get HIV

Read more from womenshealth.gov

  • Healthy Aging - This section of womenshealth.gov provides information on topics related to aging, such as caregiving, health insurance, safety, age-related health problems, and staying active.

Explore other publications and websites

  • GirlsHealth.gov: Body - This section on GirlsHealth.gov offers information for adolescent girls (ages 10-16) about unique health issues they will encounter during the teen years.
  • HIV Infection in Adolescents and Young Adults in the U.S. - This fact sheet gives statistics about HIV infection in adolescents and how it is most commonly transmitted in this age group. It discusses the difficulties facing health professionals who treat adolescents for HIV infection, and explains clinical studies involving adolescents.
  • HIV, AIDS, and Older People - This publication explains what HIV is, how it is spread, how it is treated, why it is increasing among older adults, and how it affects them.
  • HIV/AIDS Among Youth - In the United States, HIV-related death has the greatest impact on young and middle‑aged adults, particularly racial and ethnic minorities. This fact sheet provides an overview of HIV/AIDS among adolescents, as well as risk factors and barriers to prevention.
  • HIV/AIDS and Aging (Copyright © San Francisco AIDS Foundation) - This publication describes how heart disease and bone loss can affect aging women with HIV and provides tips to lower risk factors for these problems.
  • HIV/AIDS and Children (Copyright © UNICEF) - This website talks about HIV/AIDS among young people throughout the world. It discusses why HIV/AIDS is a problem in this population and what needs to be done to protect them. It includes articles on what UNICEF is doing to prevent HIV/AIDS, reports on programs for young people, and gives global statistics.
  • Talking to Your Kids (Copyright © American Social Health Association) - This step-by-step guide outlines what parents should do to initiate a conversation about HIV/AIDS with their children, present facts, and clarify misunderstandings that their children may have about HIV/AIDS.
  • Talking With Kids About Tough Issues: HIV and AIDS (Copyright © Children Now) - This resource explains the importance of providing sexual education to children. It provides advice on how a parent can approach the subject of sex in a comfortable and age-appropriate way.

Connect with other organizations

Content last updated: July 01, 2011.

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