HIV and AIDS: what are the risks for gay men?
The number of people with HIV in the UK is rising, and gay men are one of the highest risk groups.
In 2015, about 101,000 people in the UK were living with HIV. About 13,500 of them don't know they have it and are at risk of passing on the virus.
HIV attacks the immune system, the body's defence against infection and disease.
This means someone with HIV has a higher risk of getting a serious infection or disease, such as cancer.
How do people get HIV?
HIV is spread through bodily fluids, such as semen or blood. It's most commonly passed on during unprotected sex, including oral and anal sex. It can also be passed on through sharing sex toys.
Who gets HIV?
Anyone can get HIV if they have unprotected sex, but gay men are one of the highest risk groups. Women who have only ever had sex with women are at low risk.
Can I get HIV from kissing someone with it?
You can't catch HIV by kissing someone. Nor can you catch it if someone with HIV sneezes on you, from sharing a bath, towels or cutlery with someone who has HIV, or by sitting on a toilet seat someone with HIV has used.
How can I avoid getting HIV?
Using a condom during sex is one of the best ways to avoid getting HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Don't use an oil-based lubricant as it can damage the condom, making it more likely to split. Use a water-based lubricant, such as KY Jelly, instead.
If I get HIV, can't I just take a few pills to make me better?
The most common treatment for HIV involves taking between one and four pills a day. But there's no cure for HIV, so you'll probably need to take the medication for the rest of your life. Your treatment and medication will need to be reviewed on a regular basis. You'll also need to take extra precautions to avoid infections, like flu and pneumonia.
How can I get tested for HIV?
A simple blood test can determine whether you have HIV. It can take up to three months after being infected to detect the virus, so you may need to have another test to be sure. There are various places you can get tested, including your GP surgery or a sexual health clinic.
When should I get a test?
If you're a gay man and you've had unprotected sex, it's important that you have a test. Public Health England recommends annual HIV testing for gay men who change sexual partners.
What will happen if the test result is positive?
If your test is positive, you'll be referred to an HIV clinic. HIV clinics employ professionals who specialise in helping people living with HIV.
For more information
Page last reviewed: 30 June 2017
Next review due: 30 June 2020