Above: Image © Kim Gunkel, iStockphoto.com

Sex: a three-letter word that can awaken so many feelings, from pleasure to anxiety. While it’s no secret what is pleasurable about sex, the hidden anxiety about safety is often saved for awkward conversations with your parents or sex-ed teachers.

The fact is, when beginning a sexual relationship, you need to understand the risks of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and know that you’re being safe.

It is true that many STIs such as chlamydia, which is the most common sexually transmitted infection, can be treated. But it is important to remember that there are STIs for which there is no cure. The most well-known of which is human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

HIV is a three-letter acronym describing a serious infection you can get by having oral sex, anal sex or vaginal sex. You cannot get HIV from "closed-mouth" kissing, however, it is possible to get HIV from "french kissing". This virus causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a weakening of your body’s immune system, leaving you helpless against even the mildest infections, like a cold. To date, there is no cure or vaccine for HIV. Drug therapies can help those infected live a longer life; however, the majority of people eventually die from complications due to this infection.

Did You Know?
HIV infects human cells, primarily the white blood cells, and uses the energy and nutrients of these cells to grow and reproduce, thereby causing a weakening of the immune system.

Ask, protect, test three words that could save your life. When beginning a sexual relationship, before having sex, you should ask if your partner has been tested for STIs. Testing can be carried out by your doctor or at Planned Parenthood and only requires a small blood sample. If asking is initially overlooked, the next best thing is to protect yourself by using a condom, which is highly effective at preventing HIV transmission during sex. When in doubt, if you ever think that you have been infected with HIV, the most effective action is to go to the doctor, be tested and get treatment. If done within 3 days of having sex, treatments can be up to 80 per cent effective.

Did You Know?
Most people infected with HIV don't even know that they have become infected, because no symptoms develop immediately after infection. During this initial period, however, an HIV-infected person is highly infectious. If not treated, signs of AIDS usually appear after few years.

Don’t be afraid to talk about sex or HIV with your parents or at least your doctor. While talking about sex may be uncomfortable, becoming infected is even worse. So just remember the power of three: ask, protect, test.

Learn More!

CDC – Center for DiseaseControl


WHO –World HealthOrganization



Heikinheimo O., and Lahteenmaki P. Contraception andHIV infection in women. Human Reproduction Update 2009:15(2): 165-76.

OSCILLATORY ACTIVITY IN THE BASAL GANGLIA OF PATIENTS WITH PARKINSON’SDISEASE Lanovitz, R.J., andCurrier, J.S. Postexposure Prophylaxis for HIV Infection. The EnglandJournal of Medicine 2009: 361; 1768-1775.

Article first published January 8, 2010.

Top photo credit: iStock - Kim Gunkel

Kiera Clayton

I am currently a Master's candidate at the University of Toronto in the Immunology Department. Specifically, I study proteins involved in the immune response during HIV infection. I completed my Honor's Bachelor's of Science at the University of Toronto, specializing in Biochemistry and Virology. I grew up in many places around the world, including London (UK), Toronto (Canada) and North Carolina (USA). When not in the lab, I enjoy rock-climbing, singing and listening to jazz.

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