What women should know about HIV

Why is HIV increasing so rapidly among women?

There are probably several reasons. First of all HIV, even though it is still a very serious and dangerous disease, is not the immediate death sentence it once was as long as you have active to antiretroviral drugs , so we have started to see some complacency.

More women are worried about getting pregnant that getting HIV, but it is important two think about contraception and STD protection as two independent issues. Sadly, we don't do a very good job education our youth on the importance of safe sex as evidenced by the fact that by the 9th grade 33 percent of kids have been sexually active but only 45 percent of adolescents use condoms.

Unfortunately condom use goes down hill from there. Post menopausal women rarely use condoms because they are not worried about pregnancy and unfortunately their doctors rarely ask then about safe sex!

Why are we not having enough conversations about sex?

In America we have a tricky relationship with sex. Our movies, TV shows, and magazines promote it yet we are strangely puritan in our ability to discuss it in a real-life form. The more we don't talk about it, the harder open conversations are.

It is an interesting dichotomy, our youth can post all kinds of intimate details on twitter and Facebook but having the real face to face conversation seems monumentally difficult. And unfortunately it is as hard for many doctors to discuss sex in a frank discussion as it is for many patients.

So who should get tested?

The American Congress of OB/GYN (ACOG) issued new guidelines last year recommending that women ages 18 to 64 get screened regularly for HIV. Basically if you have ever had sex you are at risk, so teenagers who are or who have been sexually active should be screened as well as older women who are sexually active.

Where can you get tested?

At your doctor's office, testing is confidential. If you don't have insurance or for some other reason you don't want to go to your doctor's office, you can find a local testing site by visiting www.hivtest.org or by calling the CDC at 1-800-CDC-INFORMATION or send a text message to "KNOWIT" (566948) with your ZIP code as the message and within seconds you will receive a text message listing HIV testing sites near you.

What else can you do to protect yourself?

Insist that your partner get tested and don't assume because you are married your spouse is free of indiscretions. I have two words for that: Tiger Woods. Be careful about engaging in casual sex.

A man was recently arrested for having unprotected sex with more than a hundred women without telling them he was HIV positive. Ask new partners to be tested and insist on seeing the piece of paper with the lab result.

Also, use condoms. If 100 women have unprotected heterosexual sex with an HIV positive partner, over a year 5 percent will become infected. Using a condom with every act of intercourse reduces the risk of acquiring HIV from an infected partner by 85 percent.

Condom use is especially important with anal sex as the risk of HIV transmission is even greater. Remember, if your partner is not using a condom you are having sex with everyone they have ever had sex with.

About Dr. Jennifer Gunter:

Dr. Jennifer Gunter is a nationally and internationally renowned obstetrician/gynecologist and a leading expert in the field of sexual health.

She is the recipient of numerous awards and has published extensively in medical journals.

Follow Dr. Gunter on Twitter by going to Twitter and read her column for the Examiner at www.examiner.com

Some facts about HIV and AIDS:

Unfortunately women or all ages represent one of the fastest growing groups of new HIV infections in the United States. In 1985 only 8 percent of women were HIV positive but in 2005 that number had ballooned to 27 percent, so the number of HIV cases in women has tripled. That translates to one woman testing positive for HIV every 35 minutes in the United States.

Not only is the incidence of HIV growing among women and girls, but many have no idea they are infected. Over 1 million people in the United States are living with the human immunodeficiency virus and more than 25 percent of them have no idea that they are actually HIV positive.

When a person does not know that she is infected she is putting her life at risk, as earlier treatment with antiretroviral drugs means a longer and healthier life. In addition, if they do not know their HIV status they are also putting the lives of all of their sexual partners at risk.

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