Despite recent reports that new HIV infections are declining among Black/African American women, black women remain heavily impacted by HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at some point in her lifetime, one in 32 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV compared to one in 106 Latinas, and one in 526 white women.
While Black women don’t necessarily engage in riskier behaviors than women of other ethnicities, a range of complex factors places them at greater risk for HIV. Generally, Black women may be at increased risk for HIV because, proportionately, there are more people living with HIV in the Black community, increasing the chance of exposure with every sexual encounter. Higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, not knowing your (or your partner’s) HIV status, stigma, fear, discrimination, negative perceptions about HIV testing, and socioeconomic issues associated with poverty, e.g., limited access to healthcare, housing, and HIV prevention education, are also contributing factors.
Many people know that HIV is a significant health risk. However, research suggests that many women continue to underestimate their own personal risk of getting HIV, even when they are taking part in relatively high-risk behaviors. Underestimating your risk for HIV can keep you from getting tested for HIV. It can also prevent you from choosing behaviors that can help keep you from getting HIV.
Think you don’t need to worry about getting tested for HIV? Think again. In support of National HIV Testing Day (June 27th), an annual observance to promote HIV testing, consider these 5 reasons to get tested for HIV:
1. You are having sex.
If you’ve had sex without a condom or other protection, you may be at risk for HIV. The fact is, whether you’ve had one partner or several, sex is still the #1 way that women get HIV. There are many ways you can reduce your risk of HIV:
Choose to have sex with one partner who recently tested HIV negative and agreeing to be sexually active only with each other.
Limit your number of sexual partners, as it decreases your chances of having sex with someone who is living with HIV.
Choose less risky sexual behaviors. Among oral, vaginal and anal sex, anal sex is the riskiest type of sex for HIV transmission, followed by vaginal sex. Oral sex is much less risky than anal or vaginal sex. Use latex male condoms or female condoms correctly every time you have anal or vaginal sex. Condoms are the only effective form of birth control that also helps reduce the risk of transmitting HIV and most other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Ask your health care provider about PrEP—a new prevention option for people who are at high risk of getting HIV, can reduce your risk of getting HIV. PrEP is meant to be used consistently, as a pill taken every day. Consider PrEP if:
You are HIV-negative and in an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV-positive partner.
If you do not regularly use condoms during sex and are having sex with someone whose HIV status you don’t know for sure, or who may be at substantial risk of getting HIV (e.g., people who inject drugs or men who have sex with other men).
2. You don’t know his HIV status. You’ve heard it before. You can’t tell someone’s HIV status by looking at them. Remember, 1 in 7 people living with HIV don’t know that they have it. People often get HIV early in a relationship because they don’t know their partner’s HIV status, and they stop using condoms (or other prevention tools) as the relationship becomes more serious.
If you don’t know your partner’s HIV status, then you have a greater chance of getting HIV for many reasons.
You may wrongly assume that he doesn’t have HIV.
He may have been infected with HIV a long time ago and was never tested.
He may have been infected with HIV recently, since his last HIV test.
Even if you know your partner’s HIV status, things could change. You may not always know if your partner is having sex outside of the relationship or doing other things that could increase his chance of getting HIV.
Put your love to the test. Get tested, preferably together. Once you know your results and his, you can make decisions about how best to keep each other safe.
It is important that you and your partner have ongoing conversations about these issues to stay healthy.
3. You’re pregnant – or thinking of becoming pregnant.
If you are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, knowing your HIV status can help protect your baby from getting HIV. Because 1 in 7 people with HIV do not know their HIV status, many women who are infected with HIV may not know they are infected.
HIV testing during pregnancy is important because if a woman is living with HIV and doesn’t know it, she may accidentally transmit HIV to her baby during the pregnancy, during birth or by breastfeeding. HIV testing provides an opportunity for women living with HIV to find out if they are living with the virus. If a woman is living with HIV, treatment can improve her health and greatly lower the chance that she will transmit HIV to her baby before, during, or after birth. Women with HIV who take HIV medicines (antiretroviral therapy) during pregnancy (as recommended) can reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to their babies to less than 1%.
4. You have an STD.
Having an (sexually transmitted disease) STD greatly increases the likelihood of both getting and transmitting HIV. People who are HIV-negative but infected with an undiagnosed or untreated STD are at least two to five times more likely to get HIV if they are exposed to the virus during sex. Someone who is both living with HIV and infected with another STD, are more likely (than people who are living with HIV but don’t have another STD) to transmit HIV to their partner during sex. It is important to get tested for HIV and other STDs such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, and insist that your partner does, too.
5. If you test positive for HIV, there are treatments available that can allow you to live a long, healthy life.
Many women (and men) avoid getting tested and knowing their HIV status for fear of discovering they have HIV. However, it’s important to remember that HIV is increasingly becoming a manageable disease. There are medicines available that not only help you better manage your health, but also keep you from transmitting HIV to your partner/s and your unborn child. Living with HIV without treatment leaves your body vulnerable to the disease, and could negatively impact your lifespan and quality of life. If you find out you have HIV, you can get on treatment, improve your health, prolong your life, and greatly lower your chance of transmitting HIV to others. The sooner you get and stay on treatment, the better.
Getting tested for HIV is the only way to know your HIV status for sure. Whether you test positive or negative, knowing your HIV status can give you peace of mind.
To find HIV testing sites in your area, and for more information on HIV and black women, visit http://gettested.cdc.gov/takecharge.
Act Against AIDS is a national communication campaign developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) intended to fight the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States. The campaign focuses on raising HIV awareness among all persons living in the United States, and reducing the risk of infection among the hardest-hit populations. If you are living with HIV, or interested in providing support for someone who is living with HIV, visit our other campaigns HIV Treatment Works and Let’s Stop HIV Together.