Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a condition which undermines and attacks your immune system, making your body less able to fight off infection and disease. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was the term used to describe the later stages of HIV, though now most medical professionals refer to this as advanced or late-stage HIV infection. When the disease has reached this point, your immune system is in such a weakened state that the likelihood of developing severe infections and cancers is very high. HIV is a condition that can affect people from all different backgrounds, but being a gay man puts you in a particularly high-risk category.

HIV can be transmitted by having sex with an infected person – both through anal and oral sex. Although the risk of infection is lower with oral sex, if you engage in any kind of unprotected sex with someone who has HIV, there is always a chance that you could become infected. That is why unless you’re prepared to abstain from sex for the rest of your life, you should always practise safe sex in order to reduce your risk of picking up HIV or any other kind of sexually transmitted infection (STI). You may choose to inquire what your partner’s sexual health status is, but you cannot always rely on his word.

If your partner has not been tested recently or decides to lie, and you engage in unprotected sexual activity, you are exposing yourself to unnecessary risk. There have been some instances of men actively seeking to become infected with HIV by having unprotected sex, also known as ‘barebacking’, with an infected man, for a variety of reasons. However, there is no cure for HIV and once you have been diagnosed with this disease the treatment could require you to take a large number of pills every day for the rest of your life and there is no doubt your quality of life will suffer.

It is therefore worth ensuring that you always carry a condom with you if you intend to have sex, and that you know how to put it on properly. It is also advisable to have yourself tested for HIV on an annual basis, especially if you have more than one partner. That way, if you do become infected you will receive treatment sooner, which will improve the outcome and also reduce the chances of you infecting someone else. If you do engage in unprotected sex, it is even more important that you get yourself tested, though it can take up to three months for the virus to be detected, so that it is even more important to practise safe sex.

The signs and symptoms of HIV vary from person to person. For some people, the infection has an immediate impact on their health, and they experience symptoms such as fever, nausea, headaches, tiredness and diarrhoea. Even if you experience these symptoms, it may not enter your mind that you have HIV, especially if these symptoms appear to go away by themselves.

You might not experience any symptoms for years, though, which is why it is so important to be tested regularly. With late-stage HIV you could experience rapid weight loss; fatigue; fever; swollen lymph glands in the armpits, groin or neck; white spots on the tongue or inside the mouth; brown or purplish blotches on or under the skin; memory loss and depression; pneumonia.

Is it really worth risking all these health complications for the sake of not wearing a condom? If you engage in unprotected sex with individuals whose sexual history you have no idea about and you have multiple partners, there is a real possibility you could become infected with HIV or some other STI and that you could infect other people. Thus, to stay healthy you need to wear a condom when you have sex and have yourself tested for HIV regularly to ensure that you are free from the disease.