From The Office on Women's Health
HIV can touch the lives of all American women, no matter what their background. However, research shows that women of color are more likely to be infected with HIV.
Some risks of HIV infection may be higher in some communities.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Women of color have high rates of some STIs. Having an STI can make women more likely to be infected with HIV.
- Risky sexual behavior. Unprotected sex with multiple partners, with a partner who has other sex partners, or with people at high risk of HIV infection can be common in some communities. In some communities men may not live with their regular sex partner due to jail, immigration issues, or other social forces. This can result in female partners being at greater risk of HIV.
- Drug use. All drug users may be more likely to have unprotected sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Women who use intravenous (IV) drugs may share needles or have sex with others who use IV drugs. Sharing needles to inject IV drugs is the second most common way of getting HIV.
- Lack of basic necessities. Women who cannot afford the basics in life such as quality health care and housing are indirectly at higher risk of HIV. Having to care for others such as children or family may place additional strain on women's resources.
African-American women and Latinas have the highest rates of HIV. HIV diagnoses in black women are nearly 15 times higher than in white women. HIV diagnoses in Hispanic or Latina women are four times higher than in white women.
The latest estimates from the CDC show almost 300,000 women living with HIV in the U.S. A study of 40 U.S. states and territories shows that 66 percent of the women who were diagnosed with HIV in 2009 were African-American, 17 percent were white, and 14 percent were Hispanic or Latina.
It's important that every woman protect herself from getting HIV, no matter what her race or ethnicity. Remember: You can take charge of some things in your life that can prevent HIV infection.
Other Sexually Transmitted Infections
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are harmful, especially to women. STIs that are not treated can cause cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and other health problems. If a pregnant woman has an STI, it can harm her baby's health. Having an STI also can increase a woman's risk of getting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
STIs affect people of all backgrounds and economic levels. Yet African-Americans have high rates of many common STIs. Compared to white women, African-American women have:
- Chlamydia rates that are more than seven times higher
- Gonorrhea rates that are about 16 times higher
- Syphilis rates that are 21 times higher
We don't know how many Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women are affected by STIs. But any woman who has sex may be at risk of STIs.
American Indian and Alaska Native women are no exception. They have the second highest rates of infection with chlamydi and gonorrhea.
Rates of common STIs, such as chlamydia (kluh-MID-ee-uh) and gonorrhea, are higher in Latinas than in non-Hispanic white women.
You can lower your risk of STIs by taking the following steps. The steps work best when used together. No single strategy can protect you from all STIs.
- Don't have sex. The surest way to keep from getting any STI is to practice abstinence. This means not having vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Keep in mind that some STIs, like genital herpes, can be spread without having intercourse.
- Be faithful. Having a sexual relationship with one partner who has been tested for STIs and is not infected is another way to lower your risk of getting infected. Be faithful to each other. This means you only have sex with each other and no one else.
- Use condoms correctly and every time you have sex. Use condoms for all types of sexual contact, even if intercourse does not take place. Use condoms from the very start to the very end of each sex act, and with every sex partner. A male latex condom offers the best protection. You can use a male polyurethane condom if you or your partner has a latex allergy. For vaginal sex, use a male latex condom or a female condom if your partner won't wear a condom. For anal sex, use a male latex condom. For oral sex, use a male latex condom. A dental dam might also offer some protection from some STIs.
- Know that some methods of birth control, like birth control pills, shots, implants, or diaphragms, will not protect you from STIs. If you use one of these methods, be sure to also use a condom correctly every time you have sex.
- Talk with your sex partner(s) about STIs and using condoms before having sex. It's up to you to set the ground rules and to make sure you are protected.
- Don't assume you're at low risk for STIs if you have sex only with women. Some common STIs are spread easily by skin-to-skin contact. Also, most women who have sex with women have had sex with men, too. So a woman can get an STI from a male partner and then pass it to a female partner.
- Talk frankly with your doctor and your sex partner(s) about any STIs you or your partner has or has had. Talk about symptoms, such as sores or discharge. Try not to be embarrassed. Your doctor is there to help you with any and all health problems. Also, being open with your doctor and partner will help you protect your health and the health of others.
- Get tested for STIs if you are at risk. Ask your doctor if you should be tested for STIs and how often you should be retested. Testing for many STIs is simple and often can be done during your checkup. The sooner an STI is found, the easier it is to treat. If you are age 24 or younger, you should be tested for chlamydia yearly if you are sexually active or pregnant.
- Avoid using drugs or drinking too much alcohol. These activities may lead to risky sexual behavior, such as not wearing a condom.
For more information about minority women's health, go to www.womenshealth.gov
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