A woman's background can also affect her HIV risk, experts say. "Many of the women that we work with have a history of childhood sexual abuse and trauma," Duke says. This type of history can impact a woman's decisions—including whether or not she chooses to have safe sex. In some cases, women may be forced to have unprotected sex by an abusive partner, Fields says.
Michelle and Janice are both in committed relationships now: Each has a man her life who is HIV negative, and both say they practice safe sex to help keep their partners from becoming infected. Gooden says that her HIV-negative boyfriend of 12 years gets routine HIV tests. "I chose not to have sex [after being diagnosed with HIV] until I met someone who understood that putting on a condom was important to me," she says.
Both Janice and her 16-year-old son, who was born with HIV, are in good health. She takes three medications daily, exercises three times a week, eats healthily, and sees a therapist to discuss any issues that bother her.
Brown, who takes seven pills per day, is also doing well. The diagnosis has even helped her in dating, she says. "You can tell a lot about a man's character when you tell him that you have HIV," Brown says. "I used to date a guy for years before I found out that he was no good. Now I find out in the first 10 minutes."