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AccessMatters Information Hotline – FAQs


Can I become pregnant while having sex during my menstrual period?

It is possible. A woman can only become pregnant around the time that she is ovulating, or releasing an egg from one of her ovaries. A woman ovulates 14 days before the first day of her next menstrual period. In most women, this means that ovulation happens well after she’s finished menstruating. If a woman’s menstrual cycle is very short, however– meaning 21 days or less between menstrual periods– she could be ovulating during her period or shortly thereafter. So having unprotected sex during her period could possibly lead to pregnancy.

Can you get HIV from kissing?

No.  It’s extremely unlikely for someone to get HIV from kissing— even deep, open-mouth kissing.  HIV is only transmitted through blood, seminal fluids (including pre-ejaculate or pre-cum as well as semen,) vaginal fluids, and breast milk; these fluids are not usually exchanged during kissing.  HIV is not transmitted through saliva— nor through sweat, tears or urine.

Can you get HIV from oral sex?

Yes, it is possible. HIV is transmitted through four bodily fluids: blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. Transmission is possible if any of these fluids is infected with HIV and has an opportunity to enter your bloodstream.  For a partner performing oral sex, the only way the virus could enter his or her bloodstream would be through a cut, sore or tear in the mouth or throat.  In general, oral sex is considered a lower-risk sexual activity than vaginal or anal sex.

In order to reduce the risk of HIV transmission through oral sex, it’s recommended to use female or male condoms and dental dams.

Can you get HIV from saliva?

No. HIV is transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. It is not transmitted through saliva, sweat, tears, or urine.

Do free or low-cost children’s health insurance programs cover parents, too?

 Unfortunately, they do not. These programs are only for children.

Does an abortion procedure hurt?

A woman’s experience of pain during a surgical abortion depends on the type of medical pain management, or anesthesia, she chooses to have during the process.  The experience can also depend on her body’s individual tolerance for pain. With local anesthesia to the cervix, a woman is awake during the procedure, but her cervix is numbed to reduce pain during dilation (when the cervix is being opened) and evacuation (when a gentle suction is used to remove the contents of the uterus.)  Many women say they experience a tugging sensation or menstrual-like cramping during this process.  If a woman prefers to be sedated during the abortion procedure, there are two different types of anesthesia usually offered.  With a twilight anesthesia (a form of intravenous sedation, or IV sedation,) a woman will not be fully conscious and will not likely feel pain during the procedure. With general anesthesia, the woman will be unconscious during the procedure.  Abortions performed after 16 weeks in pregnancy usually require IV sedation.

Following a surgical abortion, a patient is usually given a mild, over-the-counter pain reliever, and a heating pad is suggested to help with any cramping. Pain should be manageable; sharp or severe pain could be a sign that something is abnormal.  You should contact your abortion clinic immediately if you have concerns following your procedure. 

During a medical abortion, in which a woman takes a series of medications to terminate the pregnancy, it is common to experience moderate to severe cramping and bleeding.  This is usually strongest in the first few days after beginning the process, but it can last up to around 2 weeks.  Again, this experience can vary from person to person.

Does the OraSure HIV test hurt?

No. The OraSure has to stay in your mouth for 2-5 minutes which might be uncomfortable, but it should not hurt.

How can I apply for free or low-cost health insurance for my children?

There are several options. You may request an application from some medical facilities; or you may obtain the insurance application packet directly from the programs themselves. Call CHOICE at 215-985-3301for more information.

How long do I have to wait for my results from an HIV test?

Most HIV test results are available in 7-14 days.  A rapid test gives results back in about an hour.  The counseling, testing and results are given at the same location.  Rapid refers to the time in which you would get your test results back; it does not mean that you can take the test any earlier than any other HIV test.  You still must wait the 3-6 month window period before you can receive a highly accurate test.

How long does the process take when applying for free or low-cost children’s health insurance?

Within 30 days you should receive a letter of notification of eligibility.

I am attracted to a friend who’s the same sex as me; does that mean I’m gay?

It is okay to go through many emotions when exploring sexual feelings and sometimes these feelings are for people that may surprise you. If you find yourself having feelings for someone of your same gender identity, you may or may not be “gay.” Your sexual identity is something you will discover with time and that is okay too. It is important to know that you have someone with whom you can talk about your questions and your feelings. Always remember that the CHOICE Hotline is here for you.

I have had sex with more than one person. Is that unhealthy?

People can choose to have sex with multiple partners. With any sexual relationship, it is important to have open communication with all sexual partners; get tested regularly for STIs and HIV; and use barrier methods or other modes of birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancy, STIs, and HIV

Is abortion legal?

Yes, abortion has been legal in the United States since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. In Pennsylvania, abortion is legal up until 24 weeks, but is usually only available in PA until 22 weeks. 

For teens age 17 and under, parental consent is required to have an abortion in PA.  If a young woman cannot tell her parents that she wants an abortion, she can go through a process called judicial bypass.  CHOICE counselors can explain this process in more depth if you’re interested: call the CHOICE Teen hotline at 1-800-848-3367.

Is abortion safe?

Yes, abortion is one of the safest and most common types of surgery.  Current statistics show that one in three American women will have an abortion in her lifetime.  The risks associated with abortion are considered lower than the risks of continuing the pregnancy and going through childbirth. 

One important way to ensure you have a safe procedure is to attend a follow-up visit, usually scheduled for two weeks after the procedure.  During the follow-up, a clinician will perform a pelvic exam to check to see that you’ve healed following surgery, that no pregnancy-related tissue remains inside your uterus and that no infection has occurred.  It’s also an excellent opportunity to talk to your provider about starting birth control.

Is burning or a discharge from the penis or vagina a symptom of a STI (Sexually Transmitted Infections)?

It’s normal for women to have some vaginal discharge throughout their menstrual cycle.  A burning sensation in the genital area or an unusual discharge (any vaginal discharge that has a foul odor or different texture, or any discharge from the penis) are common symptoms of STIs like Chlamydia, Gonorrhea or Trichomonas. These symptoms might also indicate other infections, like yeast infections or Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs,) which aren’t necessarily sexually transmitted.  It’s impossible to diagnose any of these infections based on symptoms alone; the only way to know for sure if you have an STI is to be tested by a medical professional.  STI tests are usually done using a urine sample or by getting a swab sample of the discharge.  Call CHOICE if you’re looking for a place to get tested in PA!

Is emergency contraception the same as abortion?

No.  Emergency Contraception Pills (ECP, or sometimes called the Morning After Pill) are a concentrated dose of birth control pills that are highly effective in preventing pregnancy from occurring when taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex.  ECP can also be effective when taken up to five days, or 120 hours, after unprotected sex.  ECP works to prevent a pregnancy from beginning.  It cannot work if a woman is already pregnant and won’t harm a pregnancy that has already begun.

Abortion, on the other hand, is the termination of an already established pregnancy.  There is a type of procedure called a medical abortion, during which a series of medications is used to terminate the pregnancy, but this is completely different from ECP and is only available at abortion clinics.  See the ECP fact sheet for more information.

Is the OraSure HIV test as accurate as the blood test?

Yes, the OraSure test is considered more than 99% accurate. OraSure test determines the presence of HIV antibodies in tissue from the cheek and gum inside the mouth. It is not a saliva test.

Up to what age are children covered by free or low-cost children’s health insurance programs?

The Medical Assistance program is available for children under 21 years of age. The CHIP program is available for children under 19 years of age.

What are the free or low-cost children’s health insurance program options?

There are two options: The first is called Medical Assistance. This is a free, public health insurance program paid for by federal and state funding. This program is run by the Department of Public Welfare. The other program is the Children’s Health Insurance Program of Pennsylvania (CHIP). This is a state-funded insurance program which provides free and low-cost insurance, depending upon eligibility. This insurance is provided by Aetna US Healthcare, Caring Foundation Blue Cross Blue Shield, and AmeriChoice Kids Choice.

What are the guidelines to qualify for free or low-cost children’s health insurance programs?

One standardized application is used to determine your eligibility for all programs. The criteria used to determine your eligibility are: family size, family income, and the age of your child. In some instances, two children from the same family may be covered by two different programs.

What are the symptoms of HIV?

Many people experience no initial symptoms of HIV infection.  Some people (50-80%) will experience some initial symptoms about 1-6 weeks after infection. This is called Primary HIV Infection and can include flu-like symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, rash, joint pain, diarrhea, headache, nausea, and fatigue.  All of these symptoms are very vague and can be caused by many other illnesses besides HIV. The only way to know whether or not you are HIV positive is to receive an accurate HIV test.  (Remember, HIV antibody tests may not be accurate until 3 to 6 months following any given exposure.)

What documentation is required to apply for free or low-cost children’s health insurance?

You will need to provide documentation of household income within the past 30 days and proof of citizenship (if the child is not a US Citizen).  The only other option available is private insurance

What does an abnormal pap smear mean?

The pap smear is the screening test for cervical cancer. An abnormal pap smear can indicate a number of things, but it usually means that there are abnormal cells on the cervix. These cells may return to normal or they may be pre-cancerous.  Cervical cells can also be tested for HPV, or human papillomavirus, which is a very common sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer.   An abnormal pap result does not always indicate cancerous or precancerous cells, but a follow up procedure, called a colposcopy, is often suggested so a clinician can perform a more extensive exam of your cervix.

What is an HIV antibody test?

Antibody tests are the most commonly used method of diagnosing HIV.  These tests check for specific HIV-fighting proteins, or antibodies, that can be found in a person’s body if they’ve been infected with HIV.  Usually, a finger prick is used to get a drop-sized sample of your blood to be tested.  There is also an oral test, OraSure, which examines tissue from the inside of your mouth and does not involve any needles.

What is HIV? What is AIDS? How are HIV and AIDS related?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.  HIV infection breaks down the body’s immune system, making it more vulnerable to other infections.  It can eventually lead to a diagnosis of AIDS, the most advanced stage of HIV infection.  There is no cure for HIV or AIDS, but there are treatments available to help people live longer and healthier lives.

What’s the difference between emergency contraception and the abortion pill (RU486)?

ECP works to prevent a pregnancy from occurring. The abortion pill is one type of medical abortion to terminate an established pregnancy. With the abortion pill a set of pills are taken to cause the contents of the uterus to be expelled, similar to a miscarriage. See fact sheet for more information.

When is a woman fertile?

A woman is fertile, or able to become pregnant, when a mature egg is released from one of her ovaries. This is called ovulation, and it happens once every menstrual cycle. Women usually ovulate 14 days BEFORE they get their period. Whether a woman is trying to prevent pregnancy or become pregnant, it’s helpful to calculate a “fertility window,” or a range of days around ovulation during which sexual activity could possibly lead to pregnancy. When the egg is released from the ovary, it is available to be fertilized by any sperm that are present in the woman’s body. Because a man’s sperm can live inside a woman’s body for up to 7 days, and a woman’s egg can survive up to 48 hours, the fertility window lasts from seven days before ovulation up until two days afterwards.

If you have a regular, predictable menstrual cycle, you can calculate your own fertility window. Start by marking down on a calendar the day you expect to get your next period. Then count backwards 14 days, or two weeks. This is the day you will most likely be ovulating during this cycle, so mark it as “ovulation day” on your calendar. Count back 7 days from your ovulation day to mark the earliest day that sexual activity could lead to pregnancy. Count forward 2 days from ovulation day to mark the latest day conception is likely. This period of about 9 days is your body’s own individual period of fertility.
For images and more information, see our fact sheet on the menstrual cycle.

When is the best time to take an HIV test?

Most HIV tests check for the presence of antibodies that a person’s body would produce if infected with HIV.  It can take time for your body to produce these antibodies at a level that is detectable by the test.  Most people have developed detectable antibodies as soon as a month after a possible exposure; however, you must wait 3 to 6 months after any given risk to have a high likelihood of testing accurately.  At 3 months post exposure, 97% of people test accurately.  At 6 months, 99.9% of people have developed detectable antibodies.  As part of your routine sexual healthcare, it’s recommended to get an HIV test every 6 months or with every new sexual partner.

Where can I get a pregnancy test?

Urine-based pregnancy tests are available at most family planning clinics, as well as through GYNs, midwives, or primary care doctors.  Home pregnancy tests are also urine-based and are available at most drugstores or pharmacies. These tests usually become accurate 1-14 days after a missed period.  Call the CHOICE Hotline (215-985-3300) for more information about finding pregnancy testing services.

Where can I get an HIV test?

Free, confidential, and sometimes even anonymous HIV testing is available at many places. Call CHOICE’s Pennsylvania State HIV and AIDS Factline at 1-800-662-6080 for information on testing sites in your area. If you live outside Pennsylvania, you can call the National AIDS Hotline (800-342-AIDS).

Where can my children get medical treatment if they are not covered by health insurance?

There are places in the Philadelphia area where parents can take their children for low or no cost at all. CHOICE (1-215-985-3301) will help you find such a place.

Will abortion affect my ability to become pregnant in the future?

There is no evidence that having an abortion, even multiple abortions, poses a risk to a woman’s ability to become pregnant in the future.  Serious abortion complications can impact future fertility; however, such complications are rare.

Will Depo Provera or the birth control pill make me gain weight?

With any hormonal birth control method, there are possible side effects. Weight gain is a possible side effect with Depo. On average, a woman may gain about 5 – 6 pounds within the first year. Weight gain or weight loss could also be a possible side effect with the pill. Not every women on Depo or the pill will gain weight and if they do, it usually can be managed by diet and exercise.