What every woman needs to know about HIV and AIDS

About one in four people living with HIV in the United States is female. This means that more than 230,000 women (PDF, 3.9MB) are HIV-positive. This National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, you should know these facts:


Any woman who has sex is at risk of HIV infection, no matter what her race, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation is. Protect yourself and your partner every time. Use a condom.


Women are more likely to get HIV during vaginal sex because the vagina has a larger area that can be exposed to HIV-infected semen. Also, semen can stay in the vagina for days after sex, which means a longer exposure time for women. And, having untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) makes it more likely that a person will get HIV if they're exposed to it.


The only way to know for sure whether you have HIV is to get tested. Talk to your partner about their sexual past and get tested together.


Most private insurance plans must cover HIV testing at no cost to you. Medicare and Medicaid often cover HIV testing but you might have a copay, coinsurance, or deductible. Call your health insurance plan to learn more.


There are at least a dozen ways you can practice safer sex and prevent the transmission of HIV, such as using a male or female condom; being in a monogamous sexual relationship with only one partner who is also faithful to you; not misusing alcohol or drugs, which is linked to sexual risk-taking; and getting tested for STIs.


If you are HIV-negative and your partner has HIV, talk to your doctor about taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a daily pill that can block HIV and prevent it from infecting you. Daily PrEP can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%. Or if you think you may have been exposed to HIV, visit a doctor right away. For people who have a one-time risk of exposure to HIV, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) might be an option. PEP is a combination of drugs that you take just once that may lower your chances of getting HIV after a single exposure.


Even when she knows her status, about one in four women with HIV postpones medical care because of fears of rejection by family, violence from a partner, or feelings of depression. Medical care can help you live a long life. If you need help for violence or abuse, call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).


If you are pregnant and HIV-positive, take HIV medicine and work with a doctor to stay healthy. If you take medicine, the risk of passing HIV to your baby is less than 1%.


Never share needles, syringes, or other injection equipment. Sharing equipment puts you at high risk of HIV infection.


A woman with HIV or AIDS needs support, family, friends, and fun. Help fight stigma by making sure people know you can't get HIV from things like the air, toilet seats, or hugs.


If you are HIV-positive, take your medicine on time every day, or whenever your doctor says. This helps lower your viral load and helps lower the chance of passing HIV to an HIV-negative partner.


If you and your partner are both HIV-positive, you should both take HIV medicines from your doctor to live a healthy life.

For more information, visit our HIV and AIDS section.