Living with HIV/AIDS  

Behaviors that Increase the Risk of HIV

HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids. Behaviors that increase an uninfected person's contact with infected body fluids will increase that person's chances of contracting HIV. These behaviors include:

Unsafe sexual behaviors
Worldwide, unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-infected partner is the most common way of getting and giving HIV (1, 2, 3). During sex, HIV can be transmitted through cuts and tears on the penis, vagina, or anus. Through these cuts and tears, infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and anal fluids may enter the uninfected person's body.

  • During heterosexual contact, cuts and scrapes are more likely during anal sex, forced sex, dry sex, or when women are very young (because their cervixes are not fully developed, and therefore more likely to rip or tear during intercourse).
  • Receptive anal sex is riskier than insertive anal sex.

Unsafe drug use
Sharing injecting drug use (IDU) paraphernalia (“works”), such as needles and syringes, increases the risk of HIV transmission and contraction because the paraphernalia are often tainted with blood. This risk is increased in areas where many drug users are also HIV+, since the chances that any given needle has infected blood on it are higher (5).

Mixing sex and drugs/alcohol
Sex and drugs/alcohol interact in many ways to increase a person's risk of getting or giving HIV. When people use drugs and alcohol, their decision-making abilities, awareness of their surroundings and memories are altered, making them less likely to choose or remember to practice safer sex (5).

Not taking antiretroviral drugs properly.
When taken on time and in the right dosages, antiretroviral drugs can decrease the amount of HIV in an HIV+ person's body. The less a person's viral load, the less likely he or she is to infect other people. However, when people do not take their antiretroviral drugs properly, they have more HIV in their systems, and are therefore more likely to infect other people through sexual transmission or through sharing needles.

1. Kalichman, S.C. Preventing AIDS. A Sourcebook for Behavioral Intervention. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998.

2. Chin. J. (Ed.) Communicable Diseases Manual, 17th Edition. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association, 2000.

3. Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). HIV Infection and AIDS: An Overview. National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, October 2003. Retrieved on January 14, 2004 from

4. Weiss, E., Whelan, D., and Gupta, G. Vulnerability and Opportunity: Adolescents and HIV/AIDS in the developing world. Washington, DC: International Center for Research on Women, 1996.

5. Ostrow, D.G. Sex and Drugs and the Virus. In The Emergence of AIDS: The Impact on Immunology, Microbiology, and Public Health, K.H. Mayer & H.F. Pizer (eds.). Washington, DC: American Public Health Association, 2000.

© Sociometrics Corporation, 2004