What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. HIV is a virus that infects people while attacking cells that help fight infection and disease. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. It can be passed from person to person if someone with HIV has unprotected sex or shares needles with another person. The virus can sometimes be transmitted from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy or delivery.

How Does HIV Spread During Sex?

To spread HIV during sex, HIV infection in blood or sexual fluids must be transmitted to someone. Sexual fluids come from a man’s penis or from a woman’s vagina, before, during, or after orgasm. HIV can be transmitted when infected fluid gets into someone’s body.

You can’t spread HIV if there is no HIV infection. If you and your partners are not infected with HIV, there is no risk.  If there is no contact with blood or sexual fluids, there is no risk. HIV needs to get into the body for infection to occur.

Unsafe sex has a high risk of spreading HIV. The greatest risk is when blood or sexual fluid touches the soft, moist areas (mucous membrane) inside the rectum, vagina, mouth, nose, or at the tip of the penis. These can be damaged easily, which gives HIV a way to get into the body.

Vaginal or anal intercourse without protection is very unsafe. Oral sex can be less risky than vaginal or anal sex, but it is not risk free

Safer Activities

Most sexual activity carries some risk of spreading HIV. To reduce the risk, make it more difficult for blood or sexual fluid to get into your body.

Be aware
of your body and your partner’s. Cuts, sores, or bleeding gums increase the risk of spreading HIV. Rough physical activity also increases the risk. Even small injuries give HIV a way to get into the body.

Use a barrier
to prevent contact with blood or sexual fluid. Remember that the body’s natural barrier is the skin. If you don’t have any cuts or sores, your skin will protect you against infection. However, in rare cases HIV can get into the body through healthy mucous membranes. The risk of infection is much higher if the membranes are damaged.

The most common artificial barrier is a condom for men. You can also use a female condom to protect the vagina or rectum during intercourse. Always use a latex condom. If you have a latex allergy, polyurethane condoms are available.

Injecting Drugs

Use clean needles every time you inject.

Use clean works (cooker, water, etc) to inject drugs.

To exchange used needles for clean ones in Portland, call 756-8022.
For more information, go to,, or contact us at

Need a safe place to talk?

If you are living with, or know someone who has HIV/AIDS, Frannie Peabody Center may be able to address your questions or concerns. If you are afraid of exposure to, or continually put yourself at risk of HIV, or are wondering about how to disclose your HIV status to others, we can help you. Substance abuse and mental illness may be associated with HIV/AIDS, and Frannie Peabody Center can help individuals cope with these co-existing illnesses.

Looking for more information about HIV/AIDS and related services?
Use the links below to find case management agencies and local, national and international AIDS information.

Case Management Agencies

The Horizon Program (in Augusta and Gardiner, serving Franklin, Kennebec, Somerset, Lincoln, and Sagadahoc counties as well as parts of Waldo and Knox counties)
Down East AIDS Network (DEAN+HEAL) (in Ellsworth and Machias, serving Washington and Hancock counties)
St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center (in Lewiston, serving Androscoggin and Oxford counties)

Community Health and Counseling Services (Aroostook County)

Maine HIV/AIDS Information

Maine CDC
Maine HIV Prevention Community Planning Group
Medicare Savings Calculator

National and International HIV/AIDS Information

The Access Project
AIDS Treatment Data Network (NYC)
The Body, an HIV/AIDS Information Resource
Center for Disease Control and Prevention on HIV Prevention
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC)
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (Switzerland)
Project Inform

Until There’s a Cure

If you are in need of emergency medical attention, do not depend on communications from this website. Contact your case manager by phone, call your local crisis line or go to your local emergency room.

Cumberland County crisis line: 774-HELP (4357)
York County crisis line: 800-660-8500