HIV and sexual health is an area full of acronyms and complex health terminology that may often look a whole lot more like latin than not. So to help cut through some of the more arcane terminology you might come across we have assembled this glossary of HIV and sexual health related terms.

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Formerly known as the AIDS Council of NSW, ACON is a health promotion organisation specialising in HIV prevention, HIV support and LGBTI health.


Commitment to a HIV treatment regime. This is essential in order to sustain viral suppression, reduced risk of drug resistance and overall improved health.


Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome is a condition in which HIV has severely weakened someone’s immune system making them vulnerable to life-threatening infections and cancers.


Antibodies are proteins which the immune system generates as a defense against infections such as HIV.


Anti-retroviral therapy, also known as HIV treatment, is the use of a combination of different drugs for ongoing treatment of people living with HIV.


A person who is sexually attracted to both men and women.

CD4 count

A measure of the number of CD4 cells (or T-helper cells) in someone’s blood. CD4 cells are a type of immune system cell in the body that HIV attacks and kills over time. The lower the CD4 count, the weaker the immune system.


A bacterial STI that can be spread during anal or oral sex. Most people will have no symptoms however when they do develop, may include discharge from the penis, burning with urination and painful testicles. Treatment to cure usually involves antibiotics.

Cisgender, cis

A person whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth i.e. someone who isn’t trans.


Usually made of rubber or latex, it is a flexible sheath that covers a man’s penis to prevent transmission of HIV and STIs.

Drug resistance

When a drug’s effectiveness is reduced. This can lead to treatment failure for people living with HIV.


A widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community or human population at a particular time.

Front hole

A word used to refer to the internal natal genitals of trans men, sometimes referred to as a vagina.


A man who identifies as homosexual, being sexually attracted to men.


Gay and bisexual men.

Gender expression

Ways of communicating masculinity or femininity (or both or neither) externally ie clothing, hair style, mannerisms, ways of speaking and behavioural patterns when interacting with others.

Genital herpes

A viral STI most often transmitted through sexual contact. It causes sores, blisters or a rash around the genitals and is treated with antiviral medications. No cure or vaccination currently exists for genital herpes.


A bacterial STI commonly diagnosed in MSM. Symptoms may include discharge from the penis or anus, rectal irritation and conjunctivitis. Treatment to cure usually involves antibiotics.

Hepatitis A

A liver illness that normally lasts 1-3 weeks and can be spread through contact or during anal intercourse with an infected person. Vaccination for Hepatitis A is available.

Hepatitis B

A liver infection that can be spread by blood-to-blood and sexual contact. Often no symptoms appear however can include jaundice, fatigue and nausea. Vaccination for Hepatitis B is available.

Hepatitis C

A liver illness that can be spread by blood-to-blood contact. Similar to Hepatitis B, there are often no symptoms. No vaccine is available for Hepatitis C.


Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. HIV can be transmitted by bodily fluids such as blood and semen during sex. There is currently no cure or vaccine for HIV.

HIV negative (AKA seronegative)

Someone who does not have HIV.

HIV positive (AKA seropositive)

Someone who is living with HIV.

HIV test

Blood test commonly used during sexual health check-ups to detect antibodies to HIV. It is also called a HIV antibody test. See also rapid HIV test.

Homophobia / transphobia

Dislike or prejudice against people who identify as homosexual or transgender.

HPV (genital warts)

Human Papillomavirus is a common STI that can cause genital warts and a range of cancers. It is spread during sexual contact and presents no symptoms. Vaccination for HPV is available.


An umbrella term used to describe people born with sex characteristics (ie genitals, gonads and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.


A woman who identifies as homosexual, being sexually attracted to women.


Men who have sex with men.

Opportunistic infection

A type of infection that occurs in people with a weakened immune system. People living with HIV are at greater risk of acquiring these.


Post-exposure prophylaxis is treatment taken by an HIV negative person after an event of potential HIV risk in order to prevent HIV infection.


Pre-exposure prophylaxis is a strategy whereby an HIV negative person takes HIV drugs in order to prevent acquiring HIV.


People living with HIV.

Pubic lice (crabs)

Tiny insects that live in coarse body hair such as pubic hair, armpits and facial hair. They are typically transmitted through sexual contact and cause itching and open sores. Treatment involves a cream/lotion.

Rapid HIV test

A blood test that requires a small amount of blood such as a finger prick to detect antibodies of HIV. Results can usually be provided within 30 minutes. See also HIV test.


The time period after infection where HIV develops and becomes detectable in the blood.

Seroconcordant relationship

A relationship where both individuals have the same HIV status ie both HIV positive or both HIV negative.

Serodiscordant relationship

A relationship where one individual has HIV and the other does not.

Sero-nonconcordant relationship

A relationship where one partner is HIV positive and the other is on unknown or uncertain HIV status.


The state of either having or not having detectable antibodies against a specific antigen, as measured by a blood test. In regards to HIV, one’s serostatus simply means their HIV status ie HIV positive or HIV negative.


Sexually transmitted infection, or also known as sexually transmitted disease (STD). HIV, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis are common STIs.


Negative and often unfair beliefs and attitudes that a society or group of people have towards something.


A bacterial STI that can normally presents itself as an ulcer or sores around the genitals or anus. It is transmitted primarily by sexual contact such as oral, anal sex or kissing. Treatment to cure involves antibiotics.


Treatment as Prevention is the practice of using HIV treatment, namely the concept of undetectable viral load (see UVL), as a means of preventing HIV transmission.

T-helper cells (AKA T-cells, CD4 cells)

The body’s white blood cells that help fend off infections. In regards to HIV, these are targeted and destroyed by the virus, subsequently weakening the immune system.

Transgender, trans and gender diverse

Three umbrella terms to describe people whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may be male or female, or identify as non-binary, a different gender or no gender at all.


The action or process by which something is transmitted. In regards to HIV, this refers to the method HIV is passed on to a person.


A combination of two drugs, commonly used for pre-exposure prophylaxis (see also PrEP) as well as for treatment of HIV (see also ART).


Undetectable viral load. When someone living with HIV takes treatment they can lower their viral load to be ‘undetectable’. This provides health benefits for the individual as well as prevents onwards transmission.

Viral load

A term used to describe the amount of HIV in someone’s blood. The higher the viral load, the more HIV present.

Viral suppression

When HIV treatment reduces a person’s viral load to an undetectable level. See also UVL.


World AIDS Day (December 1st).

Window period

The time between potential exposure to HIV infection and the point when HIV can be detected by HIV tests.

Acon's Commitment

One of the main ways ACON is committing to ending HIV by 2020 is through sustained advocacy efforts on behalf of our community as well as feeding information about the effectiveness of the ENDING HIV initiative back to the community… Read more.

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