An overview of the relative risks of different sexual behaviours on HIV transmission

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Purpose of review

Sexual intercourse represents the majority of HIV transmission and is preventable. Overall, the risk of HIV transmission following a single sexual exposure is low especially in comparison with other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), with estimates of the average probability of male-to-female HIV transmission only 0.0005–0.0026 per coital act. The risk of acquiring HIV from a single contact varies enormously and is dependant upon the infectiousness of the HIV-positive individual and the susceptibility to HIV of their sexual partner.

Recent findings

Of concern, unprotected sex among men who have sex with men (MSM) has increased in recent years and HIV incidence in both MSM and heterosexuals remains a considerable public health concern. Sexual practices and health optimism about HIV have changed, which have significantly impacted HIV risk behaviour.


In this review article we summarize the current evidence regarding the observed relative risks of HIV transmission for each different types of sex act, relationship type and the strategies that have been tested to interrupt transmission.

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