What Every Woman Should Know About PrEP for HIV

What Every Woman Should Know About PrEP for HIV

This article is for women who want to learn or learn more about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV, or anyone who wants to learn about PrEP. The goal of this activity is to help you talk to and work with your doctor and healthcare team about PrEP.

You will learn about:

  • What HIV is and ways to help prevent HIV

  • What PrEP is and who can take it

  • Women and PrEP

  • Talking about PrEP

  • Questions you can ask your doctor and healthcare team

Test Your Knowledge

What Is HIV?

Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a virus that attacks and destroys certain cells of your immune system, making it easier for you to get certain infections and diseases.

HIV is spread when certain body fluids of someone who is living with HIV -- such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk -- enter your bloodstream. For most adults, HIV happens from having vaginal or anal sex without practicing safer sex -- for example, not using condoms properly -- or by sharing needles or other drug injection equipment.

HIV isn't spread through saliva (spit), tears, or sweat or by casual physical contact such as hugging or holding hands.

Ways to Help Protect Yourself

People of any age, race or ethnicity, gender or gender identity, or sexual orientation or identity can be diagnosed with HIV.

But there are ways you can help protect yourself that can include:

  • Practicing safer sex or abstinence (not having sex)

  • Not sharing needles or other drug equipment

  • Taking medicine called PrEP

What Is PrEP?

PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is medicine taken to help prevent HIV before exposure to it. When taken properly, PrEP can lower your chances of HIV from sex or injection drug use. If you're exposed to HIV and are taking PrEP as directed, it's highly effective at protecting you and keeping HIV from taking hold in your body.

It's important to take PrEP as directed. Skipping doses or not taking it correctly can result in there not being enough medicine in your body and can reduce PrEP's ability to protect you.

Also, since PrEP only helps protect against HIV, practicing safer sex is still important to help protect against sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs or STDs).

Is PrEP for You?

There are different kinds of PrEP that may be taken by certain adults or adolescents who are at risk for HIV, weigh at least 75 pounds (35 kg), and have had a negative HIV test.

PrEP may be recommended if you're sexually active and:

  • Don't always practice safer sex

  • Have multiple sex partners

  • Were diagnosed with an STI in the past 6 months

  • Have a sex partner who is living with HIV

PrEP may also be recommended if you have injected drugs, have an injection partner who is living with HIV, or share needles or other drug equipment.

Women and PrEP

There is oral (taken by mouth) and injectable (injection given by your doctor or healthcare team member) PrEP available for women and people who have vaginal sex (where your partner's penis enters your vagina). Your doctor or healthcare team member can talk to you about which type may be for you.

There are many reasons why someone may decide to take PrEP. It can be important to feel empowered and advocate for yourself and your decision -- your reasons for taking PrEP may be very different from another woman's.

If you're thinking about getting pregnant and not taking PrEP, ask your doctor or healthcare team member for information. PrEP may work to help protect you and your baby. Also be sure to ask about PrEP if you are pregnant and/or breastfeeding.

Bringing up PrEP

Talking to your doctor or healthcare team member about PrEP is the first step. While some people may find certain topics embarrassing or uncomfortable, it's your body and protecting yourself is important. Just saying, "This is hard for me to bring up" can sometimes be a good icebreaker to get the conversation started.   

Having open and honest communications can put you on the path to getting the care you need. You'll also want to make sure you have a doctor or healthcare team member you're comfortable with and who understands your individual needs and personal preferences. Together, you can create a plan to help stay protected.

Caroline talks about her experiences around her decision to take PrEP.

Talking to Your Doctor and Healthcare Team

Be sure to tell your doctor or healthcare team member about your overall health, any conditions you have, and all medicines you take -- including those you get without a prescription -- and herbals and supplements. Also tell them about your lifestyle, habits, and daily routine, including anything that might affect your ability to take medicine every day or get to appointments for injections. 

If you'd like help finding ways to talk to your partner about PrEP, you can ask your doctor, healthcare team member, or community organization. They may also be able to recommend a mental well-being team member or support group if you'd like to talk to others or connect with members of your community.

Questions You Can Ask Your Doctor or Healthcare Team Member

Questions you can ask about PrEP can include:

  • How can I help protect myself against HIV?

  • Which type of PrEP may be for me, and what are the possible side effects?

  • How do I take PrEP correctly?

  • What can you tell me about PrEP and pregnancy or breastfeeding?

  • Can you recommend ways to help me talk to my partner about PrEP?

  • Is there a support group I can join?

  • Where can I find more information and resources?

Test Your Knowledge

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You have successfully completed the program What Every Woman Should Know About PrEP for HIV.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

HIV Basics

HIV and Women

HIV Prevention


HIV and Women: PrEP Coverage

Positively Aware

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Karen Badal, MD, MPH

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.Karen Badal, MD, MPH, has no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC.Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has no relevant financial relationships.


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