How’s your sexual health?

Sex has so many social and cultural taboos. And yet, sex is an ordinary part of life. Indeed, thousands of people all around the world are having sex right now.

That’s why sexual health is so important.

Today is World Sexual Health Day. The World Association for Sexual Health created the day back in 2010 as a way to promote positive sexual health around the world.

The World Health Organization says, “Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”

Those of us living with and vulnerable to HIV face barriers to optimizing our sexual health and well-being.

HIV stigma in particular causes a lot of anxiety related to sex. The worry about HIV exposures, accidental transmission and status disclosure can wreak havoc on our sexual health.

But this stigma does not match reality. There have been several great strides in HIV prevention and care in the past decade that allow those of us living with and vulnerable to HIV to take control of our sexual health.

There are more ways than ever to have a healthy, fun and fulfilling sex life.

PrEP — which is short for preexposure prophylaxis — is a medication that prevents HIV.  It is given to those of us who are vulnerable to HIV. When take as prescribed, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99%. And it has been shown to reduce HIV-related anxiety.

PrEP can be taken as a daily pill. There is also on-demand PrEP, which has not been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been shown to be effective for cisgender men having sex with other cisgender men.

PrEP can also be an injection. The first two doses are given a month apart. After the second dose, the injections are only done every other month.

For those of us living with HIV, treatment has many, many benefits. One of those is U=U, which means undetectable equals untransmittable. That’s because, with treatment, a person can reach a point where the amount of HIV in their blood is so low that it cannot be detected in lab tests. When they have reached this undetectable status, they cannot pass the virus along to anyone.

For those of us living with HIV, U=U means sex without the fear or anxiety of passing the virus along.

But only 66% of those of us living with HIV have gotten to an undetectable viral load. We have a lot of work to do so that all of us living with HIV get the treatment and care we need.

Having sex should not be held back by HIV-related stigma. Thanks to PrEP and U=U, all of us living with and vulnerable to HIV can explore and celebrate our sexual health.

Check out the CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign to find resources on HIV testing, prevention, treatment and stigma.