Hormonal Contraception and HIV Risk

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) released a press release 12/7/06 saying that the results of a large study commissioned by the National Institutes of Health report that "hormonal contraception does not appear to increase HIV risk."

The study, Hormonal Contraception and the Risk of HIV Acquisition, published in the January 2007 issue of "AIDS," followed thousands of women (aged 18 to 35) in Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Thailand and compared their patterns of contraceptive use to their risk of infection with HIV. The study was done to overcome the limitations of previous studies attempting to report the risk of HIV infection associated with hormonal contraceptives.

Although hormonal contraception (most commonly the pill and depo shot) provides an effective means of pregnancy prevention, it does not protect against HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. There are 100 million women around the world using hormonal contraception and 18 million women have been infected with HIV, mostly during heterosexual relations.

When this study ended, more African women had tested positive for HIV than Thai women, in part because the Thai government mandates the use of condoms in the country's brothels, greatly reducing the heterosexual rates of infection. The conclusions of this study suggest that women who use hormonal contraception are also using barrier methods to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

It is important when talking with teens about contraception and HIV risk to remind them that they need to protect themselves from both unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection. "Dual protection" is using a reliable method of birth control as well as a barrier method, like condoms, to protect from disease.

Photo credit: Gnarls Monkey

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