HIV FAQ

Can I become infected if my partner has HIV?

A partnership where one person is infected with HIV and the other is not can be described as a sero-discordant (or discordant) relationship. There is a risk of HIV transmission if the discordant couple has unprotected sex. However, this risk can be greatly reduced with the use of condoms during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Both partners in a discordant sexual relationship should take on the responsibility of protecting one another from HIV infection.

Is it true that gay men are more at risk for HIV than other people?

Although anyone can be at risk for HIV, some people can be more at risk depending upon the types of sexual practices and drug use they are engaging in. Being gay does not necessarily mean you are at higher risk, but certain activities gay men sometimes participate in might put them at greater risk. Overall, the gay male population in Canada has higher rates of HIV infection than some other populations. Stigma and homophobia can affect a person's ability to access information about safer sex specifically for gay men.   

How safe is oral sex?

Although it is possible to become infected with HIV through oral sex, the risk of becoming infected in this way is much lower than the risk of infection via unprotected sexual intercourse with a man or woman.
When giving oral sex to a man (sucking or licking a man's penis) a person could become infected with HIV if infected semen came into contact with damaged and receding gums, or any cuts or sores they might have in their mouth.

Giving oral sex to a woman (licking a woman's vulva or vagina) is also considered relatively low risk. Transmission could take place if infected sexual fluids from a woman got into the mouth of her partner. The likelihood of infection might be increased if there is menstrual blood involved or if the woman is infected with another sexually transmitted disease.

The likelihood of either a man or a woman becoming infected with HIV as a result of receiving oral sex is extremely low, as saliva does not contain infectious quantities of HIV.

What are the chances of becoming infected if he doesn’t ejaculate inside me?

While research suggests that high concentrations of HIV can sometimes be detected in precum, it is difficult to judge whether HIV is present in sufficient quantities for infection to occur. To guard against the possibility of infection with HIV or any other STI it is best to practice safer sex by using condoms.

Can I transmit HIV to my baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding?

An HIV-infected pregnant woman can pass the virus on to her unborn baby either before or during birth. HIV can also be passed on during breastfeeding. If a woman knows that she is infected with HIV, there are drugs she can take to greatly reduce the chances of her child becoming infected. Other ways to lower the risk include choosing to have a caesarean section delivery and not breastfeeding.

Is deep kissing a route of HIV transmission?

Deep or open-mouthed kissing is a very low risk activity in terms of HIV transmission. HIV is only present in saliva in very minute amounts, insufficient to cause infection with HIV. There has been only one documented case of someone becoming infected with HIV through kissing; a result of exposure to infected blood during open-mouthed kissing. If you or your partner have blood in your mouth, you should avoid kissing until the bleeding stops.

Is unprotected anal intercourse more of an HIV risk than vaginal or oral sex?

Unprotected anal intercourse does carry a higher risk than most other forms of sexual activity. The lining of the rectum has fewer cells than that of the vagina, and therefore can be damaged more easily, causing bleeding during intercourse. This can then be a route into the bloodstream for infected sexual fluids or blood. There is also a risk to the insertive partner during anal intercourse, though this is lower than the risk to the receptive partner.

Can I become infected with HIV through normal social contact such as shaking hands, using toilet seats, swimming in pools, sharing cutlery, kissing, sneezes, and coughs?

No. HIV is not an airborne, water-borne or food-borne virus, and does not survive for very long outside the human body. Ordinary social contact such as kissing, shaking hands, coughing, and sharing cutlery will not result in the virus being passed from one person to another.

Is there risk of HIV transmission when having a tattoo, body piercing or getting a hair cut or shave?

There is a risk of HIV transmission if instruments contaminated with blood are not sterilized between clients. However, people who carry out body piercing or tattooing should follow procedures called 'universal precautions', which are designed to prevent the transmission of blood borne infections such as HIV and Hepatitis B.

When having a hair cut there is no risk of infection unless the skin is cut and infected blood gets into the wound. Traditional 'cut-throat' razors used by barbers now have disposable blades, which should only be used once, thus eliminating the risk from blood-borne infections such as Hepatitis and HIV.

Can I get HIV from a mosquito?

No, it is not possible to get HIV from mosquitoes. When taking blood from someone, mosquitoes do not inject blood from any previous person. The only thing that a mosquito injects is saliva, which acts as a lubricant and enables it to feed more efficiently.

Can I become infected with HIV if I inject drugs and share the needles with someone else without sterilizing the needles?

We strongly recommend that you use new equipment every time you inject. You can get new equipment from Counterpoint Needle & Syringe Program at Regional HIV/AIDS Connection.

There is a possibility of becoming infected with HIV if you share injecting equipment with someone who has the virus. If HIV infected blood remains inside the needle or in the syringe and someone else then uses it to inject themselves, that blood can be flushed into the bloodstream. Sharing needles, syringes, spoons, filters or water can pass on the virus. Disinfecting equipment between uses can reduce the likelihood of transmission, but does not eliminate it.