How safe is sex?

STI and condom week
SA is marking condom week.(Photo: file)

Every day South Africans are being bombarded with safer sex or HIV/AIDS messages. Many, generally from unreliable sources, are simply urban legends while others should be taken seriously.

But how do we know whether we are having safe sex?

If we want to beat this epidemic we should ensure that we have knowledge, one of the most powerful tools in the war against HIV/AIDS.

It’s actually quite straightforward – You can only get HIV if you get infected blood or sexual fluids into your system. Some people talk about “shared body fluids” being risky for HIV, but there are no known cases of HIV caused by sweat, saliva or tears.

To infect someone, the virus has to get past the body’s defenses. These include skin and saliva. If your skin is not cut, it protects you against infection from blood or sexual fluids. Saliva also contains chemicals that can help kill HIV in your mouth.

HIV is passed on in the following ways:


Penetrative sex


The HIV germ will be in the sperm or vaginal juices of the person who is HIV positive. He or she can pass the germ on to another person through unprotected sex.

A person with a sexually transmitted diseases (STD), like the drop, may have a discharge or sores on his or her private parts. This makes it easier for the HIV germ to get into the blood during sex.

Anal and vaginal sex are known as “penetrative” sex. Penetrative sex is much more risky than oral sex. Having anal or vaginal sex is only safe if you are in a monogamous (faithful) relationship in which:

Both of you are uninfected (HIV negative);

You both have sex only with each other;

Neither one of you gets exposed to HIV through drug use or other activities.

Otherwise you need to use barriers like condoms to protect yourself from HIV infection. Traditional condoms go onto the penis and a new type of condom (the female condom) goes in the vagina or rectum.

Some chemicals called spermicides can prevent pregnancy, but they don’t prevent HIV. They might even increase your risk of getting infected if they cause irritation or swelling.

Be aware that “pulling out” before ejaculation isn’t safe. Some men think that they can’t transmit their HIV infection if they pull their penis out of the anus or vagina before they reach orgasm. This isn’t true because HIV can be in the fluid that comes out of the penis before orgasm (pre-cum).

The only sexual activities that are completely safe are kissing, masturbation (hand jobs) and mutual masturbation.


Oral sex


Saliva helps to protect you during oral sex. Oral sex is only a risk to either partner if there are open sores or blood (bleeding gums) in the mouth. However, it is still best not to ejaculate (come) in anyone’s mouth.

According to new research from the United States, oral sex was the likely cause of eight percent of recent HIV infections in a group of 102 gay and bisexual men in San Francisco. The only risk behavior found in eight of the men was oral sex. The scientists concluded that men must have contracted HIV through giving oral sex, not receiving it, without using a condom.




The HIV germ can pass into the baby if a pregnant mother is HIV positive. But not all HIV positive mothers give birth to babies who are HIV positive. With no treatment, about 25% of the babies of HIV-infected women are born infected.

The HIV germ can be passed on to the baby through breast milk if a mother is HIV positive. But not all breastfed babies will get the HIV virus.




The HIV germ can pass from one person to another through his or her blood. However, blood cannot pass through the protective barrier of your skin. Blood can only passed through your skin if you have open cuts or sores. Blood can pass into your body through the mucous membranes in or on your mouth, vagina, penis, anus and eyes.

Sometimes sick people are given extra blood through a blood transfusion. In South Africa blood transfusions are considered safe because all blood is supposed to be tested before it is given to sick people.

The HIV germ can be passed on, in very small amounts of blood, when people share razor blades that are not properly cleaned.

Injecting drugs while sharing needles can also pass on the HIV germ. You can get infected by tiny amounts of blood.

A less explored question is that of what happens if both people are already infected?

Some people who are HIV-infected don’t care about whether or not they infect other people. However, even if you are already HIV-positive and you don’t care about spreading the disease, it still makes sense to use condoms. If you don’t, you could be exposed to infections such as herpes or syphilis. If you already have HIV, these diseases can be very serious. Also, it may be possible to be “re-infected” with a different strain of HIV, or with HIV that is already resistant to some antiviral medication.

In conclusion it is agreed (by experts the world over) that AIDS is NOT spread by kissing, laughing, sneezing, coughing, hugging, touching, shaking hands, mosquitoes, plates, cups, spoons, toilets, baths, showers or swimming pools.

It is important to have safe sex use a condom. A condom stops the sperm and vaginal juices from entering each other’s bodies. Then the HIV germ cannot move from one person to another.

And last, but not least, make sure you and your partner both get treatment as soon as possible if you have an STD.

For further information contact the AIDS Helpline: 0800 012 322.



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