Learn to love latex

the Teacher and BroadReach Healthcare explain key facts about the HI virus in the third part of a series

What is prevention?
There are things we can do to help prevent HIV being transmitted from one person to another. One is to practise safer sex. Safer sex refers to sexual activities that don’t involve any blood or sexual fluid from one person getting into another person’s body. Examples include cuddling, mutual masturbation or clothed sex. Safer sex is used to refer to a range of sexual activities that involve little or no risk of HIV infection.

Why should I practise safer sex?
People who engage in unprotected sexual activities are at risk of becoming infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or having unwanted pregnancies. STIs are passed easily from one infected person to another during sexual activities. Being infected with an STI can make a person more vulnerable to contracting HIV. Often people living with HIV do not know they are infected — you cannot tell whether someone has HIV just by looking at them.

How do I practice safer sex?
Safer sex is often taken to mean using a condom during sex. Using a condom makes it hard for the virus to pass between people when they are having sex. A condom, when used properly, acts as a physical barrier that prevents infected fluid getting into the other person’s body. There are other ways to practice safer sex. They include:

  • Abstaining from having sex: Abstinence is when a person chooses not to have sex. This is the only way to make sure that you can’t become infected with HIV, provided you are not already infected. It also prevents you from becoming pregnant or contracting STIs.
  • Delaying having sex for the first time: The longer you wait to have sex for the first time, the less chance you have of exposing yourself to HIV or other STIs. If either you or your partner makes this decision, you both need to respect this choice.
  • Not having multiple concurrent partnerships (reducing the number of sexual partners you have): This means that you should not be having unprotected sex with more than one partner over a period of time. By simply reducing the number of sexual partners you have, you will reduce your chance of becoming infected with HIV. Ideally, reduce the number of partners you have to one whose status you know — and they should know yours.
  • Constant and correct condom usage: Condoms have proven to be 98% effective in preventing the spread of HIV if they are used correctly every time you have sex.
  • What is a condom?
    A condom is a thin layer of rubber (usually made out of latex or polyurethane), covered with a lubricant (slippery substance to make penetration easier). It can be worn by either a man or a woman during sex to help prevent becoming infected with HIV or other STIs. It also helps to protect against unplanned pregnancy. Because a man and a woman’s bodies are different, there are two types of condoms: the male condom, which fits over the penis, and the female condom, worn inside the woman’s vagina.

    How to use a condom

  • If the packaging is leaking lubricant, it could be a sign that the condom is damaged;
  • Do not use Vaseline, cooking oils or lotions or any other substances other than KY Jelly or water-based lubricants;
  • Do not use more than one condom at a time. You may use either one male condom or one female condom, but not both at the same time;
  • Always check the expiry date. If the expiry date has passed, rather throw the condom away;
  • Do not flush condoms down a toilet as it will clog the toilet; and
  • Ensure that you do not leave condoms where children can pick them up.
  • How do I encourage my partner to use condoms?
    If you are in a relationship, it is important to speak to your partner about the risk of contracting HIV and other STIs and how to prevent getting them. Below are some of the scenarios you can use to explain to your partner why it is better to use a condom:

  • If either of you has ever been sexually active with other people;
  • If either of you has been sexually active with other people without using a condom, one or both of you may be living with HIV. By not using a condom, you are putting your partner and yourself at risk of infection or re-infection;
  • If neither of you has had a recent HIV test;
  • If neither you nor your partner has been tested, you do not know your status and, therefore, you or your partner may be at risk of becoming infected with HIV if either of you is HIV-positive;
  • If you are unsure whether you or your partner has an STI;
  • Using a condom will protect you against many STIs. The only way you will know whether you have an STI is if you go for a test or produce symptoms of a particular STI; and
  • If your partner has other sexual partners in addition to you.
  • Some people may think that, because you want to use a condom, either you are not faithful or your partner may think you do not believe he or she is faithful. But if you think your partner is not being faithful or you do not have enough history about your partner’s sexual activities, or if either of your HIV statuses is unknown, it is suggested that a condom be used at all times.

    You are living with HIV and want to protect your partner who is HIV-negative (discordant couples)
    If you are living with HIV, it is re-commended that you discuss your status with your partner. The only way to practise safer sex and not put your partner at risk of becoming infected with HIV is to use a condom correctly every time during sex, or practise other safe-sex methods.

    You are living with HIV, are on ARV treatment and don’t want to get reinfected
    By using a condom during sexual activities, you will prevent yourself from becoming reinfected with another strain of HIV should your partner also be living with HIV.

    Where can I get condoms?
    Condoms are available at clinics, pharmacies, from your doctor and from supermarkets. They are usually available for free from government clinics.

    Do you need to use a condom if you have been circumcised?
    Circumcision is not foolproof, so having protected sex is encouraged each and every time you engage in sexual activities. If your risk of being infected is reduced, it does not mean that there is no longer a risk. Remember that men can also infect women — circumcision offers no reduction in the risk to women.

    Prevention among positives
    If you and your partner are both living with HIV, it is very important to continue to use condoms and practise safer sex. This is to prevent re-infection with another strain of HIV. Simply put, reinfection occurs when a person living with HIV gets infected with a different type of HIV. Reinfection occurs because the type of HIV that lives in each individual’s body is slightly different.

    If a person is on ARV treatment and becomes reinfected with a different strain of HIV, the medicines they take may not work if they become infected with a new strain of the virus. This is because HIV can become resistant to ARV treatment.

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