Why Safer Sex Is Important for Lesbian Women

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Safer sex should be important to everyone. You might have heard that if you confine yourself to lesbian sex, then you don’t need to concern yourself with safer sex practices. This is a myth. While your risk of developing a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is lower than with heterosexual sex, there is still a risk. Taking steps to protect yourself and your partner matters to your health.

More than half of all people will develop an STI sometime in their life, with almost 20 million new diagnoses of STIs each year, according to the American Sexual Health Foundation. STIs do not discriminate based on income level, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Everyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting an STI. Having an STI doesn’t mean you are dirty, tainted, or promiscuous; it means that sometime in your past you had sex that led to an infection. Because STIs can remain in your system, sometimes for years, without any visible symptoms, it is possible to pass an STI you didn’t even know you had to your partner.

Most STIs can be passed from woman to woman, including:

  • Bacterial vaginosis

  • Chlamydia

  • Genital Herpes

  • HPV

  • Pubic lice

  • Trichomoniasis

  • Hepatitis

Although it is not as common in lesbian sex, you can also contract gonorrhea and syphilis. In addition, in 2014 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, although instances are rare, HIV can be passed from woman to woman.

Most STIs are passed through the exchange of bodily fluids, including vaginal secretions and menstrual blood, although you can spread herpes through skin contact alone. The goal of safer sex is to avoid exchanging bodily fluids until you have both been cleared and are in a mutually exclusive sexual relationship. Johns Hopkins Medicine,through its Health Library, suggests that before you begin a sexual relationship, you:

  • Discuss past partners, history of STIs, and drug use

  • Agree that both partners will have a full panel of STI testing completed before any sexual contact, and again six months later

  • Use barriers during all sexual contact until tests after six months are negative and you are in a sexually exclusive relationship

Types of barrierloves, latex, or nitrile. Gloves should be used whenever fingers are used for vaginal penetration. Medical gloves can be bought at a local pharmacy or a feminist online store, such as GoodVibes, Smitten Kitten, or the Pleasure Chest. Many people find that lubricants last longer when using gloves and they help protect against irritation or cuts from long and/or sharp fingernails. Gloves also offer protection if you or your partner work in an industry which uses chemicals, such as hairdressing.

Dental dams. These are thin squares of latex that act as a barrier between your genitals or anus and your partner’s mouth. They can sometimes be found in pharmacies or you can find them online. If you can’t find dental dams, you can use a square of plastic wrap (although this can easily rip so be careful) or cut an unlubricated condom on the tip, the base and down the center to create a square.

Using sex toys

Sex toys can transmit STIs if not used properly. You should thoroughly clean any toys prior to use and in-between using them on each other and use a condom on insertable toys, changing the condom for each partner.

Annual checkups

Some lesbian and bisexual women are afraid to have annual checkups or talk with their doctors about their sex life. They may be afraid to discuss their sexual orientation or be worried they will be judged. Some doctors might not understand the risks of disease for lesbian women or how sexual health issues affect them. If you have found it difficult to find an understanding doctor who is willing to discuss your unique needs, you can contact the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association for a referral at 202-600-837 or look for a doctor near you using their provider directory. All women should have a regular pap test, be tested for HPV, and have annual exams.

Make a commitment to practice safer sex

There is no such thing as safe sex. However, you can take steps to greatly reduce your chances of developing an STI. While it can be hard to start these conversations about safer sex, keep in mind that by doing so, you are showing your partner that you believe both of you are important. Safer sex is what caring people do for each other. If you need to, practice what you want to say beforehand. Any partner who isn’t willing to listen and participate in safer sex is placing your health at risk.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.