A project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health

Skip Navigation

Womens Health logo
divider line


HIV stands for human immunodeficiency (IH-myoo-noh-dif-FISH-uhn-see) virus. HIV causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, a disease that weakens the body's ability to fight infection and certain cancers.

HIV/AIDS is one of the top 20 causes of death of all men in the United States, and among the top 10 killers for certain groups. Black men and men who have sex with men have been hit particularly hard. In one recent study, one out of every five men who have sex with men has HIV — and nearly half of them don't know they have it. But the good news is that anybody can take steps to protect themselves and their loved ones from HIV.

How HIV is spread

In men, HIV is usually spread by:

  • Having sex (vaginal, anal, or oral) with a man or woman who is infected with HIV (unprotected anal sex is the riskiest)
  • Sharing needles with someone who has HIV, such as during injection drug use

Return to top

Get tested

All people should know their HIV status. But many do not. About 1 in 5 people infected with HIV or AIDS in the United States do not know they have it. Many new HIV infections are caused by people who don't know they are infected. Knowing your HIV status is a vital step in getting treatment if you need it and in helping to stop the spread of HIV.

If you don't know your status, find out. Testing is easy, and there are many places to get tested: freestanding HIV testing centers, health departments, hospitals, private doctors' offices, and clinics. To get tested:

  • Ask your doctor to do the test.
  • Ask your doctor where to find a local HIV testing site.
  • Visit the National HIV and STD Resources website to find a local testing site.
  • Call CDC-INFO at 800-232-4636 or 888-232-6348 (TTY) to find a local testing site.

If you test negative, you can take steps to stay that way. If you find out that you are infected with HIV, treatment can slow down the progress of the virus. A wide variety of private and state resources also are in place to help people living with HIV.

Return to top

Preventing HIV

Can circumcision protect men from HIV?

Some studies show that circumcision lowers a man's risk of getting HIV through vaginal sex. Not enough research has been done yet to know if circumcision may also help protect men who have sex with men. Whether or not you have been circumcised, it is important to talk to your doctor about what you can do to lower your risk of getting HIV.

Take these steps to lower your risk of getting or spreading HIV:

  • Be faithful. Have sex with only one uninfected partner who only has sex with you, or don't have sex at all.
  • Use a male latex condom for all types of sexual contact. If you or your partner is allergic to latex, use polyurethane condoms. Female condoms also may help prevent HIV, but more research is needed on them.
  • Don't share needles. Don't share needles or drug injection equipment for illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine and legal drugs like steroids and vitamins. If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure the needles have been sterilized to kill germs.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners. Your risk of getting HIV goes up with the number of partners you have.
  • Don't abuse alcohol or drugs, which is linked to sexual risk-taking.

Return to top

More information on HIV/AIDS

Explore other publications and websites

Connect with other organizations

Content last updated: January 10, 2011.

Return to top