Today, it is possible to prevent getting an HIV infection or passing the virus to your partner or baby. But women still face unique challenges in preventing HIV.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some prevention challenges are unique to women:2
The best way to prevent HIV is to not have vaginal, oral, or anal sex or share needles at any time. Sharing needles for any reason is very risky.
If you do have sex, lower your risk of getting an STI with the following steps:
The steps work best when used together. No single step can protect you from every single type of STI.
Learn more about your risk for HIV with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's HIV Risk Reduction Tool.
Male latex condoms are a highly effective way to prevent HIV and other STIs, but almost one in every five women who uses only condoms for birth control gets pregnant.3 The best way to prevent both STIs and pregnancy is to use a latex condom along with another highly effective method of birth control such as an intrauterine device (IUD), an implant, or the shot.
Yes. Several medicines are available to help lower your risk of getting or passing HIV:
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
PrEP is an HIV prevention method for people who do not have HIV infection but who may be at high risk. PrEP is a pill you take by mouth every day.
Talk to your doctor about PrEP if:
Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)
PEP is an anti-HIV medicine for people who may have been very recently exposed to HIV.5 If you think you have been exposed (for example, if a condom breaks), or if you were sexually assaulted, talk to your doctor or nurse about taking PEP.
You must take PEP within three days of exposure to help lower your risk for HIV. You then take two to three antiretroviral medicines for 28 days to prevent the virus from copying itself and spreading through your body.
While taking PEP, you still need to take steps to prevent HIV, including using a condom with sex partners. Learn more about PEP.
If you are HIV-positive, taking antiretroviral (ARV) medicine can reduce your viral load (the amount of HIV in your blood) to keep you healthy. Knowing your viral load measurement and how to control it by reducing it to undetectable levels can protect your unborn baby during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. It can also help prevent spreading HIV to your sexual partner.
Behaviors that raise a woman’s risk for HIV include:
Women who drink alcohol or use drugs may also be at higher risk of sexual assault or rape, which may put you at risk for HIV. If you are assaulted or raped, you need to see a doctor right away. Your doctor may decide that you should get post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). These drugs may lower your chances of getting HIV after you have been exposed to the virus. But these drugs work only if you see a doctor within three days of exposure.
Intravenous (IV) drug users who share needles are at high risk for HIV. Sharing needles can place another person's blood right into your body, even if the amount is so small that you can't see it on the needle.
People who inject steroids, insulin, or medicines for other health problems are at risk for HIV if they do not use sterilized needles every time. Whenever you need to use a needle, be sure that it is sterilized. Do not share needles with anyone. You can also get HIV if the equipment used for body piercings and tattoos is not sterilized.
If you inject drugs or medicines, follow these steps to lower your risk of getting HIV:
Follow these steps to lower your risk of getting HIV:
If you are getting treatment for HIV, the answer is most likely no. When HIV medicine is used consistently and correctly, a pregnant woman living with HIV who is treated for HIV early in her pregnancy can lower the risk of delivering a baby with HIV to less than 1%. Without treatment, this risk is about 25% in the United States.6
All women need to be tested for HIV during their first prenatal care visit, early in the pregnancy. High-risk women who get a negative HIV test result should be tested again later in pregnancy.
Treatment, called antiretroviral therapy, works best when it is:
If you are HIV-positive and your viral load is greater than 1,000 copies per milliliter, your doctor may recommend delivering your baby by cesarean (C-section).
No. If you have HIV, do not breastfeed. In the United states and other countries where clean water is available, using a breastmilk substitute like formula is strongly recommended for women with HIV, because you can pass the virus to your baby through breastmilk.
You can also ask your doctor, midwife, or pediatrician about getting human breastmilk from a milk bank. Find a human milk bank through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
Recommendations about breastfeeding with HIV may be different for other countries where clean water is not always available.
One way to help protect your children from HIV is to talk to them about HIV, AIDS, and the sexual behaviors that raise their risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The earlier you start talking about it, the better. By the third grade, almost all children have heard about HIV.7
According to a 2013 national survey of high school students:8
Get tips on talking to your children about HIV in our Communication Skills Building section.
Send your teens to our Know The Facts First website for teen-friendly information on STI prevention.
For more information about HIV prevention, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:
The Office on Women's Health is grateful for the additional reviews by:
All material contained on these pages are free of copyright restrictions and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.
Page last updated: March 09, 2017.
Content last reviewed: March 16, 2016.