What factors make HIV more likely?

Anyone can get HIV, regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender, age, or geographic location.

Certain groups of people are at higher risk for getting HIV because of certain factors, such as engaging in risk behaviors. For example:

  • HIV is mainly spread by having anal or vaginal sex without a condom or without medications to prevent or treat HIV. Risk behaviors such as having condomless sex and having multiple sexual partners are common among teens and young adults, who have very high rates of HIV compared to other Americans.
  • Babies born to mothers with HIV can get HIV before or during birth or through breastfeeding, although effective prevention strategies can nearly eliminate the risk of this form of transmission.
  • People with other sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, bacterial vaginosis, and herpes, increase their risk of getting HIV if they are exposed to the virus through sex or blood exposure.
  • Using drugs can increase risk. Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment can spread HIV. Drug and alcohol use also can impair judgement and lead to risk behaviors like having sex without a condom or having multiple sexual partners.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information about factors that increase HIV risk.

Risk Factors Specific to Adolescents

Many factors can increase or decrease HIV risk among youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Youth Risk Behavior Survey and other CDC data have identified the following leading risk factors that can increase adolescents' and young adults' risk of HIV:1

  • Use of alcohol or drugs before sex. This can affect decision making about whether to engage in sex or to use condoms during sex.
  • Not using an HIV prevention method during sex. Using condoms or taking medicine to prevent or treat HIV are highly effective HIV prevention options.
  • Sex with multiple partners. The more sexual partners a person has, the more likely they are to be exposed to HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Male–male sex. Young men who have sex with men, especially those who are Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino, have high rates of new HIV diagnoses. Anal sex is the riskiest type of sex for getting or transmitting HIV.
  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug injection equipment.

Additional factors that can increase a young person’s chance of getting or transmitting HIV include inadequate education about safe sex, having older sexual partners, and having another sexually transmitted disease. Youth also have low rates of use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication taken to prevent getting HIV.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). HIV and youth. Retrieved May 17, 2021, from http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/age/youth/index.html
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