Women and HIV

Any woman can become infected with HIV if she is involved in risky activities (such as unsafe sex or sharing injection drug use equipment). Read the information below to learn how to protect yourself and any other women you know.

Transmission Issues

Biological factors:

  • Women are more vulnerable to HIV infection than men. During vaginal sex, HIV is transmitted from men to women about twice as easily as from women to men. Biologically, it is easier for a women to contract HIV as women have a larger area of the mucous membrane in the vagina, and semen contains a higher concentration of HIV than vaginal fluid. While HIV can transmit through any part of the female reproductive tract, it transmits most easily through the cervix as it is just one cell layer. The cervix is also more vulnerable to STIs.
  • Women often do not display symptoms of STIs in comparison to men. Having an STI has been shown to increase the risk of acquiring HIV infection in the event of exposure to the virus. Therefore, early detection of STIs and HIV is extremely important for women.
  • Gynecological problems can be early signs of HIV infection, however may not be treated as such. Ulcers in the vagina, persistent yeast infections, and severe pelvic inflammatory disease can be signs of HIV. Therefore early detection of HIV and testing is important for all women!

Social Factors:

  • Economic, social and physical power imbalances between men and women also contribute to the increased vulnerability for HIV infection in women. These relationship imbalances make it difficult for women to negotiate safer sex with their partner(s). Doing so may result in stigma, fear, violence, or abandonment. Being in an abusive relationship can cause low self-esteem and limit an abused woman's ability to insist on condom use.
  • Condom use has shown to decline in women who rely on oral contraceptives as a method for birth control. In addition, factors such as embarrassment about buying condoms, difficulty discussing condom use with partners, and insufficient knowledge about HIV and STIs, and the belief that condoms interfere with sexual pleasure also inhibit women from insisting on their use during any type of sexual activity.

Women and HIV

HIV infection affects women differently than men. Although women can experience most of the symptoms that men do, there are some HIV/AIDS related conditions that only affect women.

To learn more about the issues specific to women, click on the following titles to be taken to a fact sheet.

For more information about women and HIV or STIs, you can call us at
519-763-2255 or call the HIV/AIDS Hotline at
1-800-668-2437 (English) 1-800-267-7432 (Francais)

Public Health Ministry of Ontario United Way Trillium Foundation Guelph Community Foundation