Ask Auntie is NWAC’s version of an STBBI FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). This is a safe, convenient space for you to ask the questions burning in your mind.
Regardless of your gender and the gender of the person you’re hooking up with, there is always going to be some level of risk of contracting HIV, or any other STBBI for that matter. But to answer your question specifically: yes, HIV is a risk for lesbians and women who have sex with women. The risk is lower (because less bodily fluids are exchanged between women) but it’s still important to try to practice safer sex methods like:
- not sharing sex toys (or use a condom and wash the toy in between each use);
- using a dental dam (or a cut open condom if you’re in a pinch) when performing oral sex; and,
- avoid oral sex if you or your partner have cuts in/around the mouth or is menstruating
Following these harm reduction tips and getting tested regularly can greatly reduce your risk of acquiring HIV or a different STBBI and help you feel safe and secure while having sex.
Viral load, when it comes to HIV, is the amount of HIV in the blood of a person living with HIV. If you have an undetectable viral load, it means that the amount of HIV present in your blood is too low to be measured by a test. This means, you guessed it, that you have an undetectable viral load and undetectable=untransferable (U=U)!
Someone who lives with HIV and is on ART (antiretroviral therapy) cannot transmit it to someone else, even without using condoms or PrEP. It doesn’t mean you are cured of HIV, but if you stay on treatment and don’t miss too many doses, you will stay U=U.
It’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing. As soon as the water boils, it kills HIV but it takes a while longer to kill other pathogens (things that can cause disease). This is why you have to make sure you boil the needle for at least 20 minutes before you use it.
To stay as safe as possible, it’s best to use new equipment every time you use. If you use new gear each time you do drugs, then there is no risk of a new infection. If you need support finding an agency that provides harm reduction materials like condoms or injection equipment, visit our resource page to find one in your area!
To properly clean a tattooing or piercing needle, follow these 4 simple steps:
- Wash your hands.
- Rinse the needle under cold water.
- Soak in a glass of bleach for 2 minutes, making sure it’s completely under the water.
- Rinse the needle under cold water again.
If you need to use someone else’s syringe, follow these 5 steps:
- Draw water to the top of the barrel, then squirt down a drain (do this at least two times).
- Draw bleach to the top of the barrel.
- Shake the syringe for 30 seconds then squirt down the drain.
- Repeat step #3 at least twice.
- Rinse syringe with water at least two times.
There’s no way to know if you’re getting 100% of the germs, which is why it’s always better to use new equipment every time, but if you are unable to do so for any reason, cleaning your needles with bleach is a good practice to get familiar with.
Tattooing in prison is fairly common and is a part of the culture inside, while also being a form of personal expression. It can also put you at higher risk of disease transmission and as incarcerated Indigenous women continue to be one of the groups most affected by STBBIs like HIV or Hepatitis C, it is critical to practice harm reduction when tattooing in prison, for example: getting tested for STBBIs and knowing your status, using new needles each time or sterilizing with bleach between uses.
The same goes for home tattoos. Use new or freshly sterilized equipment each time, know your status, and know that you have the right to say no to something that doesn’t feel right.
It would be extremely unlikely, but not impossible for HIV to be transmitted through a fight. Theoretically, the fight needs to be bad enough that there is a decent amount of blood and also, there are open wounds that are deep enough to allow the virus to enter the bloodstream.
If there is blood present, then theoretically there is a risk of transmission. So yes, it can happen but the likelihood of it happening is very, very small. If you’ve been in a fight with someone and you’re worried, getting tested just for the peace of mind is always a good idea.
If your viral load is detectable, HIV is in your menstrual blood and poses a risk of transmission. This is why it’s important to get tested frequently and to learn more about ART, which can decrease your viral load so that it is undetectable and untransferable.
If you’re living with HIV and receiving oral sex around the time of your period, it’s important to use dental dams (or cutting open a condom if you’re in a pinch) to protect your sexual partner. This is especially important if they have bleeding gums, any mouth sores/wounds or an inflamed/sore throat.
If you’re on treatment, not missing too many doses, and have an undetectable viral load, you cannot pass HIV.
Nope! HIV cannot be transmitted from casual contact like sitting on a toilet seat, a hug, a doorknob, holding a baby, sharing a blanket, etc. For HIV to be transmitted it needs to have an adequate way of getting into your bloodstream, and any casual skin to skin or skin to surface contact won’t suffice.
These scenarios pose a very low risk of HIV transmission. It is extremely rare for Hep C to be transmitted through household items like makeup and rare for it to be transmitted through tweezers but it’s just good hygiene practice to not share these personal items if you’re able to. Things like razor blades for shaving and tweezers can possibly lead to blood to blood contact between people and thus there is an increased risk for acquiring blood borne illnesses, but it’s really unlikely that you will acquire HIV or Hep C in these ways.
NIHB does cover some treatments for STBBIs, including antiretrovirals. You can see a full list of which drugs are covered on the Indigenous Services Canada website. Provinces and territories each have different methods and plans for addressing STBBI treatments and the amount of information out there can be more than a little overwhelming. It’s best to reach out to an organization in your community that offers peer support that can help you navigate this area.
Never let the cost of treatment sway you from seeking it out – there are supports and plans in place to make sure that someone who needs access to a medication can receive it. You may feel anxious or scared, but you deserve to be healthy and well. Visit our Services and Supports Near You page to see what sort of culturally relevant and trauma informed resources are available near you, including sexual health clinics where you can get tested and harm reduction agencies where you can get things like condoms, dental dams, and new injection equipment.