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People who have HIV can give it to others when certain of their body fluids (blood, semen [“cum” or “pre-cum”], vaginal fluids, or breast milk [for infants only]) pass into another person’s body. There are three main ways that our body fluids can get into another person’s body:

by having unprotected sex (sex without a condom), that involves anal, vaginal or oral penetration;
by sharing “works” (needles and syringes, cookers, cottons and water) when injecting drugs or other substances; or for tattoos and piercings;
from a mother to her child before birth, during birth, or while breast-feeding. (If you are pregnant and infected with HIV, there are medicines you can take to reduce your abby’s risk of contracting HIV.)

Kissing, mutual masturbation, and getting another person’s semen/cum or vaginal fluids on your skin do not spread HIV.

The HIV virus cannot enter through the skin unless there is a fresh break in the skin. There is no scientific evidence that HIV is passed through saliva, tears, or sweat.

There is absolutely no danger from casual contact with people with HIV. HIV cannot live outside of the human body, so you cannot be infected from toilet seats, phones, or water fountains. The virus cannot be transmitted in the air through sneezing or coughing. You cannot get it from mosquitoes or other insect or animal bites. Living with an HIV-infected person does not put you at risk, unless you have unprotected sex or share needles with him or her.

Blood transfusions and medical procedures in the U.S. are safe. Giving blood is completely risk-free. And although there have been some cases of HIV through blood transfusions in the past, tests have been in place for several years to make sure that the blood you get in the hospital has no HIV.

Who’s at risk?

Anyone can get HIV – young and old, men and women, straight, gay and bisexual, rich and poor, and all racial and ethnic groups – but not everyone faces the same risk. Your risk comes from what you do, and who you do it with – that is, how likely it is that the person you have sex or share needles with is infected. But even if you are part of a community with a high infection rate, you can avoid getting HIV. Staying uninfected takes thinking, planning and follow-through. Often it means talking about things that may make you uncomfortable. It can help to “practice” talking with people you can trust or who are going through the same thing.

Making choices

In the age of HIV/AIDS, most kinds of sex involve some level of risk. Instead of labeling every form of sexual expression as “safe” and “unsafe,” it’s more realistic to think of sex as a range of risks, from less risky to more risky. Sex is also something you have with another person, so you might want to think about how you make decisions with a partner. Think about what you find pleasurable about sex, where, and with whom. Consider what risks are involved, and whether those will worry you later. Then try to think about how you might lower the risks while holding on to the pleasure. Some people have decided not to have sex with people they don’t know well, or made certain kinds of sex off limits. Some have reduced the number of their sexual partners. Only you can decide what risks are worth taking and what risks are not.