HIV

shouldn’t stop you from having a sex life

Women's sexual health

HIV and sex

HIV AND SEX

Can I still have sex?

Yes. Sex can be enjoyed just as much after HIV diagnosis as it was before, with either long- or short-term partners. 

What can I do to protect others from HIV?

If you haven’t started HIV treatment you should make sure your male partners wear condoms during sex.

If you have started HIV treatment and have had an undetectable HIV viral load for at least six months, the likelihood of you passing on HIV to others is significantly reduced.

Talk to your healthcare team about what else you can do to prevent passing on HIV to sexual partners, this includes:

  • Using condoms
  • ‘Treatment as Prevention’ (TasP) – this is the term used to describe taking HIV treatment to significantly reduce your risk of  transmitting HIV to others

Should he wear a condom?

If you are on effective treatment and your HIV viral load is undetectable, the likelihood of you passing on HIV to others is significantly reduced, so it’s you and your partners choice to decide whether he uses condoms.

For it to be as safe as possible for him to not wear a condom, the following provisions are essential:

  • You take combination HIV medication as prescribed
  • You have had an undetectable HIV viral load for at least six months
  • Both you and your partner are free from other STIs

What are the benefits of using a condom?

Condoms are the best way to protect you and your male partner from unwanted pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This includes bacterial infections like gonorrhoea or viruses such as herpes.

When both partners have HIV, it is still important to use a condom because:

  • Your partner may have a resistant strain of HIV that your HIV medication does not protect you against
  • There are two types of HIV which are found within different communities: HIV ‘type 1’ and ‘type 2’. Although type 2 is rare, it is important to check that you both have the same type
Should I tell my partner?

SHOULD I TELL MY PARTNER?

There are many benefits in talking about your diagnosis:

  • You and your partner can make informed choices about sexual activities
  • Being open and honest can do wonders to promote better emotional health
  • Often, the reactions from those who you tell can be more positive than you may have thought. This can open up your support network
  • There may be a legal requirement in your country to disclose your status
  • One thing you (and they) may not realise is that if you’re on effective treatment and have an undetectable viral load, the likelihood of you passing on HIV to others is significantly reduced
  • If you are newly diagnosed, you may wish to advise recent sexual partners to take an HIV test

Are there any negatives?

It is helpful to think about the different reactions partners may have hearing about your HIV diagnosis:

  • Hopefully your partner will be supportive but it's always possible that they may react negatively
  • They may not be aware that if you are on effective HIV treatment and your HIV viral load is undetectable, the likelihood of you passing on HIV to others is significantly reduced

If your situation is particularly difficult and you are concerned about domestic problems or violence, you should ask your healthcare team if there is any specialist guidance or support available to help you make your decision or manage negative reactions.

Can HIV affect my sex drive?

CAN HIV AFFECT MY SEX DRIVE?

Possibly, but sex drive changes are common amongst people with or without HIV for reasons entirely unrelated to HIV. It is also more common to happen as you age.

It doesn’t affect everyone’s sex drive, however, HIV can increase the likelihood of a low libido in the following ways:

  • Vaginal dryness or thrush, pain or severe pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • An HIV diagnosis can often be stressful; stress can have an impact on sex drive and ability to relax during sex
  • Early menopause (the end of your menstrual cycle). This is as a result of abnormal production of the female hormones progesterone and oestrogen. Oestrogen and testosterone levels fall significantly during and after the menopause, and can cause a reduction in sexual desire. Visit the menopause page for more information

If you are concerned about changes to your sex drive, discomfort during sex or any other sexual problem, speak to your healthcare team for advice.

What should I ask?

WHAT SHOULD I ASK?

Ask your healthcare team…

  • Am I at risk of passing on HIV if I have sex without a condom?
  • How might my HIV medications affect my sex life?
  • How can I look after my sexual health in the future?
  • How should I tell partners that I am HIV positive?
  • How could my HIV and medication be affecting my sex drive?
5
Tips

To look after your health

  1. Think about who you would like to tell about your HIV diagnosis
    Including past, present and potential sexual partners
  2. Ask you healthcare team
    About how to tell partners you are HIV positive
  3. Discuss using condoms
    With your partner to protect you both from STIs
  4. Attend regular sexual health check-ups
  5. Be open and honest with your healthcare team about your sex life