Whether you’re positive or negative, if you’re having sex or injecting drugs you need to know how to prevent HIV infection. The good news is this: by consistently practicing safer sex and harm reduction, you make the risk to yourself and your partners much smaller.

The Bottom Line

Preventing HIV starts with self care by knowing your status, having safe sex and, if you inject drugs, using clean needles. If you inject drugs, use new, sterile needles. Clean needles are a must, and anything you use to inject that comes in contact with blood can also carry HIV. Using new needles and syringes for each injection significantly reduces the risk of HIV transmission.

Prevent HIV Transmission

If you’re having sex and you want to prevent HIV transmission, you need to use a condom or other barrier consistently—every time. HIV can be spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex. While mouth-to-genital contact is not as risky as intercourse, the possibility of HIV transmission is still there.

Condoms and How to Use Them

Condoms are extremely effective in stopping the spread of HIV and reducing the transmission of many other sexually transmitted diseases. They’re also easy to use with a little practice. But not all methods or condoms are the same. Watch below to see how it’s done.

The Finer Points

So you’re practicing safer sex—you keep condoms stocked and you use them when you need them. What else can you do to reduce your risk, make good decisions and keep yourself healthy?

  • Take stock
    Spend some time focusing on yourself. How you feel will have a big effect on the choices you make. If you’re struggling with your self-esteem or mental health, or worried about negative patterns in your relationships, consider reaching out. Talk to a therapist or trusted friend, or join a support group.
  • Have sober sex
    If you’re drinking or taking drugs, you are more apt to get into a situation where safer sex practices falter or fail altogether. If you have sex when you’re sober, you’re more likely to be safe.
  • Fewer partners, monogamy and abstinence-
    The fewer sex partners you have, the more you reduce your risk of HIV infection. When making choices about your sex life, consider your risk along with the other factors. Trust yourself and what you need.
  • Learn more
    The more you know about your body, your partner, safer sex and HIV, the better you can protect yourself against STDs. Keep educating yourself about HIV prevention. Talk to your healthcare provider or visit an HIV/AIDS organization for the latest information.

Stop STDs, Stop HIV

Protecting against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) goes hand in hand with preventing HIV from spreading.
If you’re exposed to HIV during sex, you’re more likely to become infected – or if you’re positive, superinfected – if you have another STD. Open sores from STDs like herpes and syphilis provide a gateway for HIV to enter the body. Gonorrhea and chlamydia may weaken the skin and mucous barriers that help prevent infection.You can protect yourself from other STDs the same way you prevent HIV transmission: through safer sex.
Sexually transmitted diseases come in many varieties: some are curable and some aren’t, some have obvious symptoms and some don’t. People with STDs like latent syphilis and HIV may not know they have them. That’s why it’s important to make STD testing a regular part of your healthcare routine while you’re sexually active. Get tested, get treated and stay safe.
For STD testing locations, click here.
Learn more about how HIV interacts with other infections by downloading our Related Illnesses Fact Sheets (pdf).

For other non-AHF, private STD testing, to go to find a location.

Getting Tested for HIV

  • AHF’s FREE HIV Testing Services in the U.S.
    AHF offers FREE HIV Testing in areas of California, Florida, Washington, D.C., and other partner locations across the country Click here for a list of locations.
  • Other non-AHF FREE HIV Testing Services in the U.S.
    To find FREE HIV Testing locations in the US, check with the CDC
  • AHF’s FREE HIV Testing Services in the U.S.
    AHF offers FREE HIV Testing in areas of California, Florida, Washington, D.C., and other partner locations across the country Click here for a list of locations.
  • AHF’s Testing Services by Country-
    Click here to search for AHF’s testing services by country.

About one in four people with HIV don’t know that they are infected. HIV is often asymptomatic for years, so the only way to know your status is to get tested. The earlier HIV is discovered, the better it can be treated.

AHF joins public health officials and other experts in recommending that you get tested every six months for as long as you’re sexually active or otherwise at risk.

For other non-AHF, private STD testing, to go to find a location.

How To Take an HIV Clinic Test

What happens when someone visits one of our walk-in HIV testing locations?

Frequently Asked Questions About HIV Testing

  • Where can I get an HIV test?
    HIV tests are offered at a wide variety of clinics, organizations and even out of mobile vans. Check our Medical Services page for a location near you. You can also ask your doctor for a test, or buy a Home Access kit and test yourself.
  • What kinds of HIV tests are available?
    There are many HIV tests in use, but the most common are blood or oral swab tests. Most independent testing locations and a growing number of clinics and private doctors use rapid HIV testing. With rapid testing, results are available one to 20 minutes after a mouth swab, blood draw or finger prick.
  • When is the right time to get tested for HIV?
    After HIV infection, it takes three weeks to six months for the body to create antibodies to HIV. Most HIV tests work by detecting those antibodies, so if you think you’ve been exposed, three to six months later is a good time to get tested. If you’re sexually active or using needles, a test every six months is a good idea regardless.  There is also an HIV test which detects the virus itself. This test, called the Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT), requires a blood draw and is only offered at select testing centers. If the NAAT is performed, HIV can be detected three weeks after exposure.
  • How much does HIV testing cost?
    Many organizations offer free HIV testing. Check our list of locations (in the U.S./outside of the U.S.) or get in touch with a local HIV/AIDS organization.
  • Is HIV testing anonymous?
    In the U.S., HIV testing can be confidential or anonymous. Confidential testing means that your name will be used to track your results and keep statistics about HIV. Rarely, your results might be disclosed by court order, or to your insurance company or legal guardian. Anonymous testing means that you provide no personal information whatsoever.

Tested positive? Learn what you can do to best take care of yourself.