Reducing the risk of sexual HIV transmission: quantifying the per-act risk for HIV on the basis of choice of partner, sex act, and condom use

Sex Transm Dis. 2002 Jan;29(1):38-43. doi: 10.1097/00007435-200201000-00007.


Background: Sexual acquisition of HIV is influenced by choice of partner, sex act, and condom use. However, current risk-reduction strategies focus mainly on condom use.

Goal: To estimate the contribution of choice of partner, sex act, and condom use on the per-act relative and absolute risks for HIV infection.

Study design: Per-act relative risk for HIV infection was calculated with use of estimates of HIV prevalence, risk of condom failure, HIV test accuracy, and per-act risk of HIV transmission for different sex acts. Absolute risks were calculated on the basis of these relative risk estimates.

Results: Choosing a partner who tested negative instead of an untested partner reduced the relative risk of HIV infection 47-fold; using condoms, 20-fold; and choosing insertive fellatio rather than insertive anal sex, 13-fold. Choosing one risk-reduction behavior substantially reduces absolute risk of HIV infection for heterosexuals but not for men who have sex with men.

Conclusion: Clarifying the magnitude of risk associated with different choices may help people make effective and sustainable changes in behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data
  • Sexual Partners*