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Keywords:

  • Adaptive immunity;
  • female genital mutilation;
  • female reproductive tract;
  • HIV ;
  • immune cells;
  • innate immunity;
  • window of vulnerability sexual trauma

Studies on HIV acquisition and transmission in women exposed to sexual trauma throughout their life cycle are lacking, but some findings suggest that rates of HIV acquisition through coercive sex are significantly higher than that seen in consensual sex. Sexual trauma can also occur as a result of female genital mutilation, which makes sex extremely painful and can cause increased abrasions, lacerations, and inflammation, which enhances the risk of HIV acquisition. This review presents an overview of the immune system in the human female reproductive tract (FRT) from adolescence, through puberty to pregnancy and menopause. What is clear is that the foundation of information on immune protection in the FRT throughout the life cycle of women is extremely limited and at some stages such as adolescence and menopause are grossly lacking. Against this backdrop, forced or coercive sexual intercourse as well as genital mutilation further complicates our understanding of the biological risk factors that can result in transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.