Sex, Love + Travel
Women living with HIV have the right to self-determination and power of their own bodies. With the right treatments, prevention methods and support, any one living with HIV can live a healthy and happy life. Monitoring your viral load is therefore an important part of your self-care, even if you are feeling well.
Regularly checking the effect HIV and any antiretroviral treatments (ARVs) are having on your body ensures you can continue to do the things you enjoy. Perhaps sex, finding love or travelling may be some of the things that make you happy. Or maybe you are looking for social connections with other women living with HIV.
Visit our Services Directory for information on sexual health providers.
Or contact Peer Support for information on meet-ups and events.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Whether or not you choose to use male or female condoms, contraception is always a good idea as these lower the risk of STIs and pregnancy.
Being ‘undetectable’ (visit Understanding U=U) does not mean you should completely stop using condoms. The presence of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can potentially affect viral load. Below are some common STIs to be aware of:
Herpes These infections are caused by the herpes simplex virus (the same that cause cold sores on the mouth). It can be transmitted both sexually and non-sexually during skin-to-skin contact — even if there are no blisters present. Treatment: herpes may increase the replication of HIV, therefore raising viral load. Medical educators urge an aggressive treatment of herpes infections.
Chlamydia Is the most common STI in Australia. Most people don’t have any symptoms, but if left untreated, can cause serious health problems. Untreated chlamydia can lead to reproductive problems, including infertility. Treatment: chlamydia responds quickly and effectively to antibiotics.
Gonorrhoea Some research has shown a link between gonorrhoea and faster HIV disease progression. Some have no symptons, others may experience an unusual vaginal discharge, deep abdominal pain during vaginal sex or a sore, dry throat. Gonorrhoea is treated with antibiotics. A follow-up swab is taken to make sure the infection is gone.
Syphilis Caused by a bacterium. Not all people with syphilis have symptoms, but a co-infection with HIV and syphilis may also result in more rapid onset of HIV diseases and AIDS as it decreases CD4 count, and increases HIV viral load. Syphilis can be particularly dangerous during pregnancy, so to protect you and your unborn baby it is important to be tested.
Vaginal thrush (candida) Common among all women, but occurs more frequently and with greater severity among HIV-positive women. Symptoms: itchy crotch, stinging when urinating, a dry or sore vagina, thick white discharge.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV / genital warts) Most people will have HPV at some point in their life. Some strains of HPV can cause abnormal cervical cells to develop, so it’s important to get treated to avoid it developing into cervical or anal cancer. Treatment: a vaccine (free to young women and men) against HPV is available. Given most adults are infected with HPV, however, it is unclear whether women living with HIV would be effective for most adult women living with HIV.
If you would like to speak to a medical practitioner about any of the above, find your nearest sexual health clinic in our Services Directory.
A major source of support for many women living with HIV is healthy relationships with family and friends. Unfortunately, not all women have partners who are respectful and supportive.
Domestic violence is about power and control. It can be expressed as physical violence, or social, emotional or financial control. Whether or not you have HIV, no one has the right to be violent or abusive towards you.
If you would like to speak to someone, you can call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) — a free and confidential service that is available 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Looking for medicine in another country can be time consuming, expensive or not available. When travelling, keep your medication in its original packaging (labelled with your name) and also your doctor’s prescription or letter — but make sure it does not mention HIV.
You do not need to tell anyone your HIV status. If you are planning on travelling overseas — whether for work, study or pleasure — be aware that some countries continue to restrict entry and residence to people living with HIV.
Visit Positive Life (NSW) for information on HIV and travel.
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis)
An important HIV prevention option is PrEP. For people who do not have HIV, PrEP is able to prevent HIV transmission from occurring.
PrEP (the name is short for ‘pre-exposure prophylaxis’) is a drug treatment available to people who may be at risk of HIV infection. The drug is a combination of two drugs that are used as treatment in people living with HIV.
PrEP may be useful for women in some circumstances, such as if you have a regular partner who is living with HIV but who does not have an undetectable viral load. You can talk to your doctor about whether PrEP is an option for you, or for your sexual partners if you are a woman living with HIV.
Visit our Services Directory to find your nearest sexual health clinic.