Can I get HIV from vaginal sex?

Yes, it is possible for either partner to become infected with HIV through vaginal sex* (intercourse). In fact, it is the most common way the virus is transmitted in much of the world. HIV can be found in the blood, semen (cum), pre-seminal fluid (pre-cum) or vaginal fluid of a person infected with the virus.

In women, the lining of the vagina can sometimes tear and possibly allow HIV to enter the body. HIV can also be directly absorbed through the mucous membranes that line the vagina and cervix.

In men, HIV can enter the body through the urethra (the opening at the tip of the penis) or through small cuts or open sores on the penis.

Risk for HIV infection increases if you or a partner has a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Not having (abstaining from) sex is the most effective way to avoid HIV. If you choose to have vaginal sex, use a latex condom to help protect both you and your partner from HIV and other STDs. Studies have shown that latex condoms are very effective, though not perfect, in preventing HIV transmission when used correctly and consistently. If either partner is allergic to latex, plastic (polyurethane) condoms for either the male or female can be used.

* For the purpose of this FAQ, vaginal sex or intercourse refers to sexual activity between a man and a woman involving the insertion of the penis into the vagina.

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