HIV Risk

HIV-risky behaviors you might not have considered

RISKY: Assuming you know the risks

Are you sure you know what's risky and what's safer? When's the last time you checked? Can you get HIV from topping? What about oral sex? What are your options when having sex with someone who's HIV positive or with someone whose status is “unknown”?

If you're not 100% confident about what behaviors are risky, what will you do when your partner asks you to do something new? Don't wait until the morning after to ask an expert if you were putting yourself at risk. 

SAFER: Don't assume that you know.  Check our page "Isn't everything sexual risky?" or a site like to make sure you really know what you should consider "too risky".

Additionally, establish a regular testing schedule for yourself and encourage your regular sex partners to do the same. We recommend people who are sexually active get tested for HIV every six months. People who are very sexually active should get tested every three months. Come in to Magnet, our gay men’s health center in the Castro, and a counselor will be able to recommend a testing schedule for you based on your typical behavior. Schedule your tests far in advance so they become routine.

RISKY: Assuming you can tell if someone is HIV-positive

"That guy's not poz.  You can tell, right?"  Wrong.  Making assumptions is never wise.

Someone who was recently infected might not show any visible signs at all but can have a lot of the virus actively in their system, and therefore be highly infectious.  A surprising number of people who have HIV don't know it yet and may unknowingly expose their partners.

SAFER:  Behave safely no matter who you're with. Instead of thinking, “they're too young to be HIV positive, it's OK if we don't use a condom," establish personal rules for what you're comfortable doing, and apply those rules to all your encounters. Make it clear to the person you're with that your desire to 'play safely' is not a judgment of them, it's simply a necessary precaution.

RISKY: Over-tipping the elbow - drinking & partying

Going out for cocktails, and drinking alcoholic beverages with meals or during a night out dancing is very common. When we're nervous, like on a first date, or when we're hoping to meet someone special, it's tempting to “cut loose” and drink enough to lower our inhibitions.

There's a downside to having your inhibitions lowered, however.  It's not unusual to hear from our clients, "I had too much to drink and next thing I knew, we had sex without a condom," or "I'd been drinking all day at the street fair and I just wasn't thinking." 

We do things when we're drunk or high we wouldn't do under normal circumstances. If you're going into a situation where you'll be drinking a lot or doing drugs, and there's even a small possibility that you'll be having sex of any kind, you can still take steps to reduce your risk.

SAFER:  Be Prepared. Make a habit of carrying condoms with you when you go out to party, just in case. There are lots of places to get them for free if you don't want to purchase your own.  Remember that once you're at the party, you will be a lot less interested in tracking down a drugstore.

Have an accountabili-buddy. Make a plan with a friend you trust that will be with you, preferably one like a designated driver who will be staying more clear-minded. Agree on when you expect to leave the event, and touch base with each other periodically and before you leave with someone else.  A quick check-in with your trusted friend before you go home with someone else gives you a chance to think–do you have condoms and do you trust yourself and the other person to behave safely, or would it be better to get their number and meet up another time?

RISKY: Shooting up

Businessmen in suits, young women, Castro gym regulars–we've seen them all at our Syringe Access Services.  They trade used syringes for clean ones, and we don't ask any questions. But you can be sure that not all people who inject drugs  look like the hard-luck cases in the movies.

Injection drug use becomes a risk for HIV infection if the user ever shares their equipment. Blood from the first injector can stay in the needle and be transferred to the second user. If the first person has any infections, the second person is at extremely high risk.

SAFER:  A healthier choice is to always use clean needles and equipment. Our syringe access teams make it easy for people to turn in used needles for clean ones anonymously and without judgment. Our policy experts are working on legislation to make it easier for people to buy syringes at drugstores in California.

If you'd like more personalized help managing your drug use, or at least minimizing the negative effects, we've got a number of options:, Stonewall, The Speed Project, and PROP all welcome people who are dealing with drugs & alcohol.

RISKY: Being too shy to talk

Have you ever just "gone along with it" when it comes to sexual activity that seemed a little risky because you just couldn't think of what to say?

Many of us have trouble putting on the brakes when we're in the moment. It may seem awkward to ask things like "do you have a condom?," or "what are you OK with doing?" Sometimes the desire to just be with someone is stronger than asking them to put on a condom.  Sometimes you just want it, bad.  If you don't date much or are at a sex club or hooked up on-line, you might feel really uncomfortable asking personal questions at an intimate moment.

Those awkward moments can unfortunately lead to people taking risks they should not. If you clam up at the wrong moment, it might feel like it's too late to say no or to change what's going on.  Likewise, people with low self-esteem or who are having trouble with their sexual identity can feel extremely shy about what they're doing. It can lead them to have risky sexual encounters.

SAFER: Practice!  It sounds comical, but one approach is to literally practice saying “no” in your own creative, endearing way. Do it in front of the mirror or with a good friend. Start a competition among your friends for the wittiest responses to people who resist condom use (we tried this on our Facebook page, and it was a riot!).

Have a plan! If your partner can't think of anything fun to do that fits your definition of safe, have some suggestions prepared.

Find Services Outside of San Francisco


Keep Exploring

Get Tested

The best way to fight HIV is to know your status. A simple test can determine if you are infected with the virus.

Learn more...

Our Work

Our diverse programs help thousands of people every year. From testing to prevention to care, our services assist communities where need is greatest.

See what we're doing...

Our Blog

Keep up with what's happening now in the fight against HIV from foundation experts.

Check it out...