HIV is still a major health issue in the United States and around the world. In fact, according to hiv.gov, there are approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States alone. About 13% of those are unaware they have it and require testing to determine their status. Despite our progress in treatment and prevention, we still have a lot of work to do in order to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
People across the country continue to get and transmit HIV regardless of age, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. In 2019 alone, an estimated 1.7 million people were infected with HIV—roughly 5,000 per day— while over 690,000 died of HIV-related complications.
One of the most important things that we can do is educate ourselves and our loved ones about HIV and how to prevent it.
How HIV is Transmitted
HIV is transmitted through unprotected anal or vaginal sex between partners of any gender or sexual orientation. HIV is also commonly transmitted through sharing needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment.
HIV is not transmitted through saliva, sweat, or tears. HIV does not survive long outside of the human body and cannot produce outside of a human host. Therefore, HIV cannot be spread through using public restrooms, sharing dishes, through the air or through touch and closed-mouth kissing.
Factors that Increase HIV Risk
There are a few different factors that can increase your chances of contracting or transmitting HIV.
A viral load is the amount of HIV in the blood of someone who is HIV-positive. The higher someone’s viral load is, the more likely they are to transmit HIV to a partner. Taking HIV medicine can lower someone’s viral load to a point where it is undetectable. If a viral load is undetectable, then HIV is less likely to be transmitted to another person.
If someone already has other sexually transmitted diseases, then they are more likely to contract HIV. Using condoms can lower the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV and most other STDs.
Alcohol and drug abuse can also increase your chances of contracting or spreading HIV. This is because when you are drunk or high, you are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including having unprotected sex. Cutting back on alcohol or drug use can lower your HIV risk.
If You Are Already HIV-Positive
There are steps you can take to protect your partner(s):
- Take care of your health and visit your doctor regularly.
- Aim to achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load by taking your medication as prescribed and for at least 6 months. Having an undetectable viral load means that you are much less likely to transmit HIV to a partner.
- Educate your partner about PrEP and PEP, if they are HIV-negative.
If You Are Unaware of Your HIV Status
then the first step is finding out whether or not you are HIV-positive.
- Visit gettested.cdc.gov to find an HIV testing location for an in-person test.
- You can also opt for at-home test kits, which are over 92% accurate at detecting HIV.
Protect Yourself From HIV
- Practice safe sex. Use condoms every time you have sex.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) if you have an HIV-positive partner. PrEP is a daily pill that can reduce your risk of getting HIV from sex by up to 99%.
- Visit a doctor right away if you think you may have been exposed to HIV. The doctor may decide that you should get post-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PEP. PEP is an anti-HIV medicine that may lower your chances of getting HIV after you have been exposed to the virus.
HIV is preventable. Education and awareness are key in prevention, and we can all do our part to help stop the spread of HIV. By learning about HIV, talking about it openly, and getting tested regularly, we can work together to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy and safe.
Many women are concerned about the effects that hormonal birth control might have on their health. If you are thinking of starting the pill, or if you have been on the pill for a while, it makes sense that you may have concerns about how long-lasting any side effects might be. It may seem as if adding hormones to your body may not be compatible for your long-term health.
The good news is the pill and other forms of birth control are safe. Different forms of hormonal birth control work by introducing hormones that are already similar to the ones already in your body. Introducing these similar and natural hormones are used to prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation or thickening cervical mucus. The pill can also help balance the hormones already present in the body to improve complexion, reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and even reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Breaking Common Myths
One common myth about hormonal birth control is that it can reduce your ability to conceive once you are off the pill. However, the pill works by introducing low levels of the hormones necessary to prevent pregnancy. These low levels are the reason why the pill must be taken daily. Once you stop taking the pill, your fertility goes back to normal, and chances of conception are improved within three months. One type of hormonal birth control that can impact fertility in the near term is the birth control shot. It can take between three and 18 months after your last shot for your ability to get pregnant to return.
One thing to keep in mind is that although birth control does not affect fertility, age does. If someone has been on birth control for ten years and then struggles to conceive, it could be because they are 10 years older than they were.
Another common myth about birth control is it increases your chances of cancer. However, hormonal birth control actually lowers your risk for certain cancers, including ovarian cancer. In fact, certain types of birth control can actually decrease your risk of ovarian cancer by up to 50%, even for decades after stopping your prescription. Some research indicates a slight increased risk of breast cancer, however, this risk decreases once a prescription is ended. Breast cancer is also highly unlikely in pre-menopausal womxn, so the risk is still low.
While not cancer, fluid-filled cysts on the ovaries can cause concern or pain for those who have them. Hormonal birth control methods actually stop your body from ovulating, and therefore lower the risk of creating cysts on your ovaries. Some birth control can even reduce the risk of forming breast cysts as well.
Benefits of the Pill
While birth control can have short-term health side effects, these risks disappear once you stop taking your prescription. Combination birth control (estrogen + progestin) is associated with an increased risk of stroke, blood clots and heart attack, so those at risk for these things should avoid this type of birth control. Those at risk include smokers, those who suffer from migraines with auras, and those who have a personal or family history of blood clots. Those who should avoid combination birth control can instead take the mini pill (progestin only).
The pill does offer immediate health benefits for those who take it as prescribed. Taking birth control can improve your skin by balancing your hormones. The pill, rings, and patches, all lessen PMS symptoms like backaches, cramps, mood swings, breast tenderness, bloating, depression, and more. Periods can also be lighter and even less painful when on the pill. Some forms of birth control also allow you to skip periods so you can be in control of your own period timing.
The Bottom Line
Hormonal birth control can be a great option for those with certain health needs, or those wanting to avoid pregnancy. Any risk that comes with a birth control prescription is short-term and decreases or disappears once you stop taking hormonal birth control. Your ability to conceive returns once your prescription has ended, or if you do not take the daily pill as prescribed, and your long-term fertility is not affected by your birth control.
While certain types of birth control are not for everyone, there is a type of birth control for everyone. There are plenty of options available to womxn, whether they are looking to avoid pregnancy, improve their skin, lessen PMS, or just skip periods in general.
If you are considering starting birth control, then it is important to be informed about your options. Talk to your healthcare provider or set up a telehealth consultation in order to help you find the right form of birth control for you.
Sexual health is a part of your well-being, and we want to help you take care of it. We are aiming to promote healthy relationships both physically and emotionally by sharing useful information about staying protected during intercourse through use of condoms, birth control, PrEP, and more, plus looking at what sexuality means in terms of taking care our mental health. We are here to give you some tips on how to protect yourself and your partner when it comes to sexual wellness.
Women today have more birth control options than ever before. However, this abundance of choice can make it difficult to determine which option is the best for you. If you are looking for a safe and affordable option, there are so many possibilities that it can be difficult to know which one will suit your needs the best. The good news is with an abundance of options, finding what works isn’t hard. Options for birth control include pills, IUDs, the ring, the patch, and the shot.
- Birth control pills are the most common form of birth control used. When taken exactly as prescribed, the pill is up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, while also adding the benefits of lighter periods and less PMS.
- The intrauterine device, or IUD, is a long-acting but reversible contraceptive that stays inside your uterus for years at a time. Unlike other birth control methods, IUDs must be administered by a doctor. Sometimes IUDs can slip out of place, but generally they are 99% effective at preventing pregnancy for anywhere from 3-10 years.
- A birth control ring is nearly unnoticeable and is inserted directly into the vagina. This allows women to forget about it as they go on with their daily lives, allowing them to feel protected during sex without any discomfort or interruption of regular activities. The ring is removed after 3 weeks, with a one-week break to have a period. The ring is 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.
- The patch is another low maintenance birth control method. Simply replace the patch weekly to ensure effectiveness at preventing pregnancy. Like most forms of birth control, the patch is 99% effective.
- Women who do not want to have a daily or weekly routine when it comes to birth control but are not ready for a long-term commitment should consider the benefits of getting the birth control shot. The shot’s effectiveness lasts 3 months and provides 99% protection against preventing pregnancy. The shot can be administered by a healthcare provider, or at home.
Thankfully, condoms have come a long way since the days they were made from sheepskin (and were reusable!). Both male and female condoms not only prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also protect from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Keeping condoms readily available is a great way to always be prepared for safe sex. When used correctly, male condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy. If you are a woman looking for an effective, non-hormonal birth control option, condoms are your best bet.
For those allergic to latex, the female condom is a safe, hypoallergenic alternative to male condoms.
If you are a woman who is sexually active, then being aware of your emergency contraceptive options is important. If your condom breaks or if anything unexpected happens during sex, having the morning-after pill on hand can save you from an unintended pregnancy. Most emergency contraceptives do not require a prescription and are readily available for both adults and adolescents. Morning after pills are not meant to stop or terminate an already existing pregnancy. Rather, they prevent fertilization from occurring in the first place by preventing ovulation and/or impeding sperm mobility. If a woman has already become pregnant, these medications will be ineffective at stopping her unborn baby’s development since conception has already occurred.
PrEP stands for “pre-exposure prophylaxis” and is up to 99% effective at preventing the contraction of HIV when taken correctly. Unfortunately, one in seven individuals in the US who are living with HIV are unaware they have it. Your medical provider may recommend practicing safe sex with proper condom use or starting a PrEP prescription. It is important to start your HIV prevention journey by knowing your current HIV status. In order to start a PrEP prescription, you must test negative for HIV first. Those who have a partner who is HIV positive, or those who have partners of unknown HIV status should consider talking to their healthcare provider about PrEP.
Our goal at TIN Rx is to not only to make sure that we can provide comprehensive Telehealth and pharmaceutical services, but also ensure that you have all the information necessary on any topic related to health and wellness. We want to help you take care of your whole body and well-being, which is why we are taking the time to talk about how important it is for us to address our sexual wellness.