At Nurx we want conversations about HIV prevention, testing and treatment to be an all-year thing, but we acknowledge that there is still stigma and silence around this topic, especially when it comes to women. So we’re happy that today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a chance to have a conversation and bust some myths about the HIV virus and women.
While the overall story of HIV/AIDS in the US is a feel-good one — infections are down and medical developments make it easier to prevent and treat HIV than ever before — too many women are still infected. Certain groups, including Black, Latina, and transgender women, are disproportionately affected.
Our own Dr. Emily Rymland, DNP FNP-C, Nurx Director of Clinical Operations, has been focused on preventing and treating HIV throughout her career, and feels passionately that women need to think and talk (and test for) HIV a whole lot more than most do. Here she shares four facts about women and HIV that everyone should be aware of.
FACT: Women get HIV too.
When a Nurx patient recently tested positive for HIV after using one of our STI Home Test Kits, Emily delivered the news to her, and learned that the patient had been struggling with health problems and none of her doctors ever bothered to recommend HIV testing. “Many healthcare providers just assume that women aren’t at risk, and don’t even ask them about it,” says Emily. “This patient did our home test just to get a check, and once she tested positive and got her in-person labs done to confirm the diagnosis she found out that she had full-blown AIDS. Her doctors had never asked about her risk factors or anything! Now she is on treatment and will be fine, but it shows how easily HIV can be missed in women if their providers aren’t knowledgeable and women aren’t empowered to ask about HIV.”
FACT: PrEP is for women.
PrEP is a daily pill that provides 99% protection against HIV infection, has few side effects, and is very affordable with insurance or payment assistance plans — so why do so few women take it? “Women either don’t know about PrEP or they think it’s only for gay men, so not enough women take PrEP,” says Emily. “Some think that if they’re on PrEP it means they’re a slut or planning to cheat on a partner — we need to reframe that. Being on PrEP means ‘I’m taking charge of my sex life, I’m protecting myself and my partners, I’m doing the wright thing.’ PrEP is self-care, it frees you up to not worry. It means you’re a responsible person.”
How should you decide if PrEP is right for you? “Not every woman should be on PrEP but every woman deserves a conversation about whether she should be on PrEP, and there should be no fear around that conversation,” says Emily. “If you’re sexually active but aren’t 100% sure of the HIV status of your partners, aren’t sure if a partner is monogamous, or aren’t consistent with condom use, then you should consider PrEP. If you’re reading this and the thought crosses your mind, ‘Oh my god, could that person I was with have had HIV?’ then you should ask about PrEP.”
FACT: HIV testing shouldn’t feel scary.
The only truly scary thing about HIV is not knowing you have it. Says Emily, “People need to understand that today HIV is very manageable — treatment is usually just one pill a day, with few side effects. If you get and stay on treatment you’ll live a full, long life, and won’t give it to your partners and can have babies without passing it to them. But the consequences of untreated HIV are severe and even deadly, so you need to get tested so you can start treatment.”
FACT: Women need to talk about HIV more.
“The conversation about HIV is really hard for people, especially straight people, but that silence is what causes HIV to spread,” says Emily. “Women should get tested regularly and talk about it — tell your friends, your sister, your mother that you’re getting tested and tell them to get tested too. Normalize it!”
There’s often silence around women and HIV in the doctor’s office as well. One reason too few women are on PrEP may be that their medical providers don’t raise the subject with them, and the women either don’t know to ask about PrEP or feel uncomfortable asking for it. Says Emily, “At Nurx we don’t ask you why you need PrEP. If you think you need it you can have it — it’s your body, your choice. We give women the power to make these decisions and do what they want.”
You can request PrEP any time in the Nurx website or app. Have questions? We’re here for you. Call Nurx at and leave a message for Emily Rymland.
About Emily Rymland
Dr. Emily Rymland, Clinical Development Manager at Nurx, has been a nurse practitioner working in HIV care in Northern California since the early 90s. She was originally drawn to medicine because of the HIV epidemic when many of her friends became ill. She has spent time working in Women’s Health at Planned Parenthood and runs the Buseesa Community Development Centre, a small bush clinic in western Uganda. Emily enjoys working in telemedicine because it increases access for patients, especially those who suffer from the stigma surrounding HIV.
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