LGBT Health
NHS Choices

HIV and AIDS

The number of people with HIV in the UK is rising. Over 6000 people in Britain are diagnosed with HIV every year, with just over half of these men who have sex with men. 13% of those with HIV are not aware of it. Just over 100,000 people in the UK are living with HIV.

HIV is a serious condition. It attacks the immune system, putting those with HIV at risk of other serious health problems such as cancer, hepatitis and tuberculosis (TB).

People with HIV now have a normal life expectancy. However this does depend on early diagnosis and treatment. For some people, going for a HIV test can be very scary, but if the test comes back positive, there are services to help you.

See the A-Z topic HIV and AIDS page.

 

How can you catch HIV?

HIV is spread through bodily fluids, such as semen or blood. It's most commonly passed on during unprotected vaginal or anal sex penetrative sex. It is also passed on via oral sex, sharing sex toys, all forms of direct genital contact and penetration with fingers, especially when one partner is menstruating.

There are many myths about HIV and AIDS. You may be afraid of catching it but also you may be afraid of being tested.

 

Who gets HIV?

Anyone can get HIV if they are exposed to the virus. If you have unprotected sex which involves genital-genital penetration, including vaginal, oral and/or anal penetration, then this puts you more at risk. However anyone who has sexual contact with another person should be aware of the risks of HIV.

There are other non-sexual ways to be exposed to HIV, such as sharing needles. See the A-Z topic HIV and AIDS page for more information.

 

How to protect yourself

The best way of protecting yourself from HIV and other STIs is to wear a condom or Femidom if you have sex that involves genital-genital penetration.

For trans men and non-binary people, if condoms or Femidoms are not suitable, other options are available (see Terrance Higgins Trust)

If you use lubricant make sure it is water based lubricant, e.g. KY Jelly. Oil based lubricants can damage condoms.

 

Do I really need to be tested?

The test for HIV is a simple blood test. It can be done at your GP, at a GUM clinic or at a charity like the Terrence Higgins Trust.

If you have unprotected penetrative sex it's important that you have a test. If you regularly have unprotected penetrative sex with different partners, it is recommended that you have an annual HIV test. If you have non-penetrative sex, but change sexual partners frequently, it is also recommended that you have a regular test.

 

Can I have a test done confidentially?

Yes. If you don’t want your medical records to show you have had a test for HIV you can have the test done at a GUM clinic or via a charity like the Terrence Higgins Trust.

It can take up to three months after infection to detect the virus, so you may need to have another test to be sure. There are various places you can get tested, including your GP surgery or a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic.

See the A-Z topic HIV and AIDS page for more information on HIV.

 

But I’m a lesbian! Do I really need to be tested?

HIV is not easily transferred between two people unless sex involves genital-genital penetration. If you do not have penetrative genital sex, you may be at low risk. However HIV infection is still theoretically possible. It is a good idea to use dental dams or other barrier methods for oral sex or finger-genital contact. A dental dam is a latex or polyurethane (very thin, soft plastic) square, of about 15cm by 15cm, which you can use to cover the anus or female genitals during oral sex. It acts as a barrier to help prevent sexually transmitted infections passing from one person to another.

Even if you only very occasionally have unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex involving genital penetration you should be tested for HIV and other STIs. This would apply, for example, if you are a lesbian who occasionally has penetrative sex with men. 

If you regularly have unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex involving genital penetration and change your partners frequently, you should be tested for HIV and other STIs annually.

 

What will happen if the test result is positive?

If your test is positive, you'll be referred to an HIV clinic. HIV clinics employ professionals who specialise in helping people living with HIV.

For more information about treatment, see the Health A-Z topic about Treatment for HIV.

While there's no cure for HIV, there are medications that can slow its progression and prolong life.

 

Websites

Terrence Higgins Trust

National AIDS Trust

Avert (global inforamation and education about HIV)