Knowing the risks associated with having sex and choosing the best prevention options is always important. The risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is greater for men who have sex with men than for other people.
The risk of contracting HIV and other STIs decreases through being informed, getting tested frequently, and taking preventive measures for having sex, such as using condoms.
It’s crucial to understand the risks of engaging in sexual activity with other men to protect against contracting HIV.
Because of the prevalence of HIV among men who have sex with men, it’s more likely these men will encounter a partner with HIV compared to other people. Still, transmission of HIV can occur regardless of sexuality.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70 percent of new HIV infections in the United States occur among men who have sex with men. However, not all of these men realize they’ve contracted the virus — the CDC states that one in six are unaware.
HIV is a chronic health condition that can be transmitted through sexual activity or shared needles. Men in sexual relationships with other men can be exposed to HIV through:
- pre-seminal fluid
- rectal fluid
Exposure to HIV occurs from contact with fluids near mucous membranes. These are found inside the rectum, penis, and mouth.
Individuals living with HIV can manage their condition with antiretroviral medications taken daily. Studies have shown that a person who adheres to antiretroviral therapy reduces the virus to undetectable levels in their blood, so they can’t transmit HIV to a partner during sex.
Individuals with a partner who has HIV may choose to use medications like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to decrease their chance of contracting the virus. This medication is also recommended for those who’ve engaged in condomless sex or had an STI within the last six months. PrEP must be taken daily to be effective.
There is also an emergency medication a person can take if they’ve been exposed to HIV — for example, they’ve experienced a condom malfunction or shared a needle with someone who has HIV. This medication is known as post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP. PEP must be started within 72 hours of exposure. This medication is identical to antiretroviral therapy, and so should be taken in the same manner, whether it be once or twice a day.
In addition to HIV, other STIs can be transmitted between sexual partners through intercourse or the touching of skin around the genitals. Both semen and blood can also transmit STIs.
There are many STIs, all with different characteristics. Symptoms may not always be present, which makes it difficult to know when a person has contracted an STI.
A healthcare provider will discuss the best course of action to treat an STI. Managing an STI varies from condition to condition. Having an untreated STI can put a person at greater risk for contracting HIV.
It’s important for men who are sexually active with other men to get screened frequently for HIV and other STIs. This will help them maintain their health and avoid transmitting any of these conditions to a sexual partner.
The CDC recommends getting tested for STIs regularly and at least once a year for HIV. The organization also encourages anyone who engages in sexual activity with risk of exposure to get tested more frequently.
Immediate treatment after being diagnosed with any STI can prevent or reduce the risk of transmitting it to others.
Knowledge about HIV can help guide sexual choices, but it’s also important to take preventive measures to avoid contracting HIV or other STI during sex.
Preventive measures include:
- wearing condoms and using lubricants
- understanding the risk with different types of sex
- protecting against certain STIs through vaccination
- avoiding situations that may lead to poor sexual choices
- knowing a partner’s status
Use condoms and lubricants
Condoms and lubricants are essential to prevent HIV transmission.
Condoms help prevent the transmission of HIV and some STIs by blocking the exchange of bodily fluids or skin-to-skin contact. Condoms made with synthetic materials like latex are the most reliable. Other synthetic condoms are available for those allergic to latex.
Lubricants prevent condoms from breaking or malfunctioning. Only use lubricants that are made from water or silicone. Using Vaseline, lotion, or other substances made from oil as lubricants can lead to a condom breaking. Avoid lubricants with nonoxynol-9. This ingredient can irritate the anus and increase the chance of contracting HIV.
Understand the risk with different types of sex
Knowing the risk with different types of sex is particularly important for those concerned about contracting HIV. Keep in mind that other STIs can be transmitted through many types of sex, including anal and oral sex and others that don’t involve bodily fluids.
For HIV-negative people, being on the top (the insertive partner) during anal sex can decrease the chances of getting HIV. There’s less risk of transmitting HIV through oral sex, but this doesn’t necessarily apply to other STIs. While HIV can’t be transmitted from sexual acts that don’t involve bodily fluids, some STIs can.
Receiving vaccinations against STIs like hepatitis A and B and HPV is also a preventive option. Talk to a healthcare provider about these vaccinations. The vaccination for HPV is available for men under the age of 26, though some groups recommend vaccinating up to age 40.
Avoid certain social situations
It’s important to avoid certain social situations, or at least be especially aware. Intoxication from drinking alcohol or using drugs can potentially lead to making poor sexual choices.
Know a partner’s status
People who knowing their partner’s status can reduce their chances of contracting HIV or other STIs. Getting tested before engaging in sexual activity can also help in this regard. Home testing kits are a good option for quick results.
Men who have sex with men have the highest risk of contracting HIV, so it’s especially important they know the risks of sexual activity that doesn’t include methods to prevent HIV transmission. Regular testing for STIs and preventive measures during sex can also assist in maintaining sexual health.