Lesbian Sexual Health: Protecting Yourself From STIs Lesbian Sexual Health: Protecting Yourself From STIs
Whether you're casually dating or involved in a long-term relationship, it's important to practice safe sex. Women can pass sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to... Lesbian Sexual Health: Protecting Yourself From STIs

Whether you’re casually dating or involved in a long-term relationship, it’s important to practice safe sex. Women can pass sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to their partners during intimacy, and recognizing the risks is half the battle in guarding your health. Armed with knowledge of the risks and methods of prevention, you can take steps to keep yourself and your partner healthy. Here’s what you need to know about staying safe when engaged in lesbian dating and sex.

Why Practice Safe Sex?

There are several ways women can transmit STIs to other women during sexual contact. These include skin contact that does not involve any type of penetration, oral sex, contact with vaginal fluids–including period blood–and the sharing of sex toys. In addition, anyone who shares needles faces the risk of contracting an STI because of needle contamination. Practicing safe sex can dramatically lower your risk of contracting an STI.

Types of STIs

There are many types of STIs that can be spread through woman-to-woman sexual contact. Here are some of the most common:

Bacterial vaginosis

This STI develops when the normally balanced environment of the vagina becomes overrun with harmful bacteria, which overwhelms the good bacteria that is naturally present. This is one of the most common STIs for lesbian women. Keep in mind that though sexually transmitted, bacterial vaginosis can also develop in women who have not been sexually active.

HIV

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), can be spread through contact with blood and vaginal fluids. While you are less likely to contract HIV through lesbian sex than via sex with a man, it still represents a risk. Keep in mind that an infected person can have the virus for many years before developing symptoms.

Chlamydia

Caused by bacteria, this STI can be spread through oral and vaginal sexual contact. It can lead to a very serious condition called pelvic inflammatory disease, which, if not promptly treated, can permanently damage the organs involved in reproduction.

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Herpes

Typically caused by HSV-2, herpes causes sores that return again and again. These sores most frequently appear on the genitals, anal area, or mouth, though they can show up on any part of the body. The herpes virus can lie dormant in a person’s body, allowing them to believe they are free of infection because they do not see outbreaks. This virus can be spread through skin-to-skin contact as well as oral and anal sex. In addition, HSV-1, the virus that usually causes oral herpes, can be transmitted to the genitals through oral sex.

Trichomoniasis

This STI can be transmitted through genital-to-genital contact, and possibly through oral sex. You can also contract it by sharing towels, wash cloths and other damp objects that come into contact with your genital area.

HPV

Human papillomavirus (HPV) may not cause symptoms, but can lead to cervical changes associated with cancer and genital warts. It can be spread through genital contact and by sharing sex toys.

Tips for Practicing Safe Sex

There are steps you can take to maintain good sexual health. One of the easiest ways to prevent STIs is to insist that your partner gets tested for STIs before you engage in sexual activity. You should also get tested, and share the results with your potential partner. However, doing so only keeps you completely safe if you are both monogamous. You can also protect yourself by using condoms on all sex toys, or by avoiding the sharing of sex toys, sanitizing toys between uses and using latex gloves when stimulating your partner with your hands. In addition, using dental dam may help prevent the spread of STIs during oral-to-genital activity.

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Signs You May Have Caught the Bug (STI)

There are many signs to watch for when guarding your sexual health. Start by noting any changes in the appearance, texture or odor of your vaginal discharge, including grayish or greenish fluid, foamy-looking discharge, and fishy or otherwise offensive smells. Likewise, itching, irritation and pain in the vaginal area may warrant a trip to see your doctor.

Be on the lookout for sores that develop in the genital or rectal area, bleeding between periods, painful urination, painful sex, lower back pain and unexplained fevers, tiredness or flu-like symptoms. However, it is possible to have an STI without developing any symptoms, so regular gynecological exams are critical to your health.

Treatment of STIs

Fortunately, many STIs can be successful cured using antibiotics. For example, trichomoniasis, chlamydia and bacterial vaginosis can be cured this way. HIV and herpes aren’t curable but can be treated with antiviral drugs. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for HPV, though there is a vaccine typically given to teens and younger adults that helps protect against the HPV strains most likely to cause cervical cancer.

While practicing safe sex does require some forethought and planning, you can find fulfillment in knowing that you are protecting your health while enjoying your partner. Realizing that you both care enough to support good sexual health may even make your relationship more satisfying.

Prevalence of Bacterial Vaginosis in Lesbians and Heterosexual Women in a Community Setting (Sexually Transmitted Infections), By: Evans, Amy, Andrew Scally, Sarah Wellard, and Janet Wilson. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2598706/

Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm

Women’s health. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2015, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/health-issues-for-lesbians/art-20047202

Symptoms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/understanding-stds-symptoms

Lesbian Health. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2015, from http://www.webmd.com/women/lesbian-health

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison