Love of Self
As women, we are often so busy caring for everyone else, we sometimes forget about ourselves. One of the most important things we can do for ourselves, AND those we love, is to take care of our health.
Of the more than 1.1 million people living with HIV in this country today, one in four is a woman. Women of color have been disproportionately affected, accounting for the most new infections occurring among women in the U.S. today. If current trends continue, it is estimated that one in 32 Black women will get HIV in her lifetime.
Transgender women are also at high risk for HIV. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than one in four trans women—including more than half of Black trans women—are living with HIV.
It doesn’t have to be this way!
Whether HIV positive or negative, there are things we can do to protect ourselves and loved ones. Read on to find out more.
Take charge of your health!
Maintain a regular schedule of health check-ups and make talking about HIV part of that routine.
Connecting with a health care provider whom you trust and can talk with is the first step to getting the right care. Once you find the right provider, be proactive about making appointments, asking questions, and getting the services you need.
For recommendations on exams, screening tests and immunizations recommended for women – by age – check out womenshealth.gov.
If your health care provider is not bringing up HIV, ask them about it. They can advise how frequently you should be tested for HIV as well as for other common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The Centers for Disease Control advises everyone to know their HIV status by getting tested.
Your health care provider can also advise you about the latest options for preventing and treating HIV.
After learning she was HIV positive as a teenager, Eva made it her responsibility to take control of her health and her life by seeking treatment and support. By making her health a priority, Eva is living her life to the fullest today. Hear more about Eva’s story.
To give you the best possible care your health care provider needs to know if you have HIV – even if you see someone else for your HIV care. This will ensure they do not prescribe medication that may conflict with your HIV treatment.
Ask to be tested!
While HIV testing is recommended as part of routine health care you cannot assume that it is happening if you don’t discuss it. Even if you have blood drawn that does not necessarily mean you are being tested for HIV. To know for sure, ask to be tested.
And, don’t confuse a Pap smear or pelvic exam with getting an HIV test. A Pap smear screens for cancerous cells caused by some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but it does not test for HIV. Also since many STDs, including HIV, often show no symptoms, you can’t assume you or your doctor would know if you had one – even with a physical exam – without actually testing you.
HIV testing is also recommended for all women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. One of the greatest breakthroughs in HIV is that, with proper prenatal care and antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, women with HIV can almost eliminate the risk of passing the virus to their babies. A woman with HIV on treatment can reduce the risk of transmission to less than one percent!
Get the care you deserve.
It can be difficult to get and stay healthy if you are experiencing intimate partner violence or in an unsafe situation. Having an abusive partner is associated with a higher risk for HIV and, for those living with HIV, worse health outcomes. It’s not always easy to tell if a relationship is or will become abusive, and not all abusive relationships look the same. When you love someone, it can be hard to recognize the signs. It may feel like you don’t deserve better or don’t have a choice to leave.
There is help. If you are experiencing abuse from a partner, make sure to talk with your health care provider and seek help right away. Click here to find more information about the intersection of HIV and intimate partner violence, learning to spot the signs of abuse, and how to connect with resources.
Use protection. For you and those you love.
HIV is a preventable disease. Whether you have HIV or not, there are more options available today than ever before to protect against the spread of the virus:
- Condoms: Use condoms. When used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in protecting against HIV, as well as many other STDs. Condoms are the only option to also provide protection against pregnancy. Female condoms are another highly-effective tool specially designed for women to prevent HIV and many other STDs. Like male condoms, female condoms are a barrier method of protection. Female condoms are inserted into the vagina. Some women like female condoms because it puts them more in control over condom use.
- PrEP: For added protection, talk with your health care provider about whether pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is an option for you. PrEP is a once-daily pill, available by prescription, that when used consistently can reduce the risk of getting HIV by 90 percent or more. Click here to find a PrEP provider near you. If you are taking PrEP while on hormone therapy, there are no known negative health effects. The largest study of PrEP that included trans women found, when taken as prescribed, PrEP is safe, effective and doesn’t impact feminization efforts. Click here to learn about taking PrEP while transitioning.
- Treatment as prevention: In addition to improving health, antiretrovirals (ARVs – the medications used to treat HIV – also prevent the spread of the disease.
- Clean injection equipment: Never share needles, syringes or other drug preparation equipment. You can get clean needles from pharmacies or needle-exchange programs. Only use syringes that come from a reliable source. If you need help with addiction, click here to find drug treatment programs near you.
Women with an abusive partner are more likely to have forced and/or risky sex and may be less able to negotiate use of protection, putting them at increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. There is help to get the support and care you deserve. If you are experiencing abuse from a partner, make sure to seek help right away. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) l TTY 1-800-787-3224 or visit thehotline.org.
If you are HIV positive, establish and maintain a treatment plan.
Early diagnosis and treatment improves health, extends life AND prevents the spread of HIV.
With ongoing treatment, a person with HIV can live a normal lifespan and have children without HIV. In addition to improving health, antiretrovirals (ARVs) – the medications used to treat HIV – also prevent the spread of the disease.
ARVs work to reduce the amount of virus in the body. An undetectable viral load is when the amount of HIV in the blood is so low that it can’t be detected. The lower the viral load the less likely it is to pass HIV to a sexual partner.
For trans women, under the care of a trained medical professional, you can safely transition with hormone therapy while on antiretrovirals (ARVs). If you are living with HIV, there are many drug options to treat your HIV. Your doctor can work with you to find the right drug combination to ensure you stay healthy and your transition is not negatively affected. Click here to learn more in Empowered: Trans Women & HIV.
HIV shouldn’t stand in the way of love. People with different HIV statuses can have healthy intimate relationships. There are more options than ever to prevent the spread of HIV and keep you both healthy.
“I’m healthy today because I take my medications all the time, on time, without missing a pill.” Jen has been living with HIV since she was a teen. Today she is married to a man who does not have HIV. Because of her treatment, they were able to have a healthy daughter who does not have HIV. Hear more about Jen’s story.
To get the full health and prevention benefits of ARVs, it is important that someone with HIV stay connected to care and continue to take their medications as prescribed even if they don’t feel sick.