HIV 101: Prevention and care

As the U.S. nears 30 years of AIDS and HIV in the country, the impact of the disease is undeniable. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are more than 1 million people in the U.S. living with the virus and more than 33 million people living with it worldwide. In 2009 1.8 million people died from the disease and in Utah there are more than 3,000 people diagnosed.

“Being diagnosed with it is scary. It’s really, really scary,” Toni Johnson, executive director of the People With AIDS Coalition of Utah said.

Practicing safe sex and protecting against the disease is a mindset that can, and should, be done before the moment when the decision has to be made, said Josh Newberry, the HIV prevention specialist and test site coordinator at the Utah AIDS Foundation.

“A lot of us who were raised in public schooling got really scary sex ed,” Newberry said. “We heard all about all the scary things that can come from sex. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

When having sex that involves penetration, the safest practice is condom use, which is effective 99.9 percent of the time when used effectively, Newberry said.

When participating in anal sex, the receiving partner is at the highest risk for an HIV infection due to the possibility of tearing and other abrasions, Newberry said. However, the top, or the giver, in anal sex is also at risk of exposing himself to the disease.

While giving oral sex is not as high-risk as receiving anal, there is still the possibility for infection if there is an open sore or cut in the mouth, he said. Wearing a condom, even for oral sex is advisable, he said.

“When it comes right down to it, some people just aren’t going to use condoms; maybe they weren’t planning on having sex and didn’t have one around or maybe they just aren’t going to do it,” Newberry said. “In those cases there are other alternatives that can be considered.”

Other than condoms, there are a variety of other ways to lower the risk of contracting HIV while having sex, Newberry said. Toys, hand jobs, kissing and massaging are all ways to reduce the risk of contracting the disease while still being intimate, he said.

“We can get really creative,” Newberry said. “There are all kinds of safe sex activities that people can think of, probably even more than I can.”

If anal sex is going to be performed without a condom, it is advised to use large amounts of lubricant, which could help reduce the possibility of tears or open abrasions, Newberry said. It’s not a fool-proof solution, but it is a better alternative. And while it is still possible to be exposed to the HIV virus while giving oral sex, the likelihood is less and if the choice is between giving oral or receiving anal, oral sex might be a better alternative, Newberry said.

“And ejaculating outside of the body is always better than inside,” Newberry said.

The purpose of the UAF is not to intimidate or scare people into having safe sex and the HIV prevention counselors are well trained to be accepting and helpful, Newberry said.

“When people come in, they can expect to feel comfortable with the HIV prevention volunteers,” Newberry said. “We train them to not make people feel like they did something bad. Everyone takes risks and while we want to help and educate, there’s no judgment.”

Being diagnosed with HIV or AIDS is terrifying, Johnson said. Coming out to family and friends about an HIV-positive status can be absolutely intimidating, she said. Aside from health factors, the disease can be devastating financially, due to loss of employment or rising healthcare costs, she said.

“Finding that area of comfort, where you can be comfortable with your status can be tough,” Johnson said. “At the PWACU, we offer a variety of programming and avenues of support for people with HIV and AIDS.”

The PWACU has a huge selection of resources, including a writing group, a women’s group, a Latino group and different services such as free haircuts, Johnson said. The PWACU is one of the most valuable resources available to people in Utah who are HIV positive, she said.

“Getting to the point where you can say, ‘Hello, I am HIV positive,’ isn’t easy to do,” Johnson said. “People can expect to find a safe and affirming space here.”

Whether recently diagnosed, or simply seeking testing or education, Utah has a wide array of programs and assistance options, Newberry said.

For more information, go to PWACU.org and UtahAids.org.

HIV Test Sites and Times

Utah Pride Center
First and third Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Second and fourth Wednesday, 5 to 7 p.m.
361 N. 300 West, Salt Lake City

Utah AIDS Foundation
Mondays, 5 to 7 p.m.
Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. by appointment
1408 S. 1100 East, Salt Lake City

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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