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Can Lesbians Get STIs? How can Lesbians have Safer Sex?

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Lesbians can get STIs like everyone else! Sometimes, information about STIs can focus on sex between men and women exclusively. This can be confusing if you are a woman who has sex with women, or wants to have sex with women. However, STIs can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and by exchanging bodily fluids. So it’s just as important for lesbians to know about safer sex as it is for people who aren’t lesbians!

Not all lesbians have sex the same way, and not all women who have sex with women identify as lesbians. There are many different ways to have lesbian sex, and different kinds of sex have different levels of risk for transmitting STIs. It’s also important to keep in mind that not all lesbians have the same body types. Some trans women are lesbians! Lesbian sex doesn’t always mean sex between two people with vaginas. Knowing that someone is a lesbian doesn’t tell you anything about their body or personal history.

This FAQ covers transmitting STIs from oral sex, skin-to-skin contact, hand sex (also known as fingering), and sharing sex toys. It also covers what type of protection you can use for these types of sex.

Transmitting STIs from oral sex

You can get or receive many STIs (including herpes, gonorrhea, and HPV) through oral sex. These STIs can be transmitted from your mouth or throat to your partner’s genitals and vice versa. You can reduce the risk of transmitting STIs through oral sex by using a dental dam or condom. A dental dam is a thin square latex sheet that can be placed over the genitals (or anus) to help prevent STIs. You can make a dental dam by cutting the tip off of a condom, and then making another cut up the side so that the condom becomes a flat sheet.

If you or your partner has herpes you may also want to avoid oral sex when you have active herpes sores, or think you have sores coming on. Active herpes sores are small, blister-like bumps that appear around your mouth or genitals during a herpes outbreak. These are sometimes accompanied by other symptoms.

Transmitting STIs from skin-to-skin contact

Not all STIs can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, but some can! HPV is commonly transmitted through skin-to-skin contact in the genital area. Herpes can also be spread this way. You can reduce your risk of getting STIs from skin-to-skin contact by using barriers like a dental dam. You might also want to avoid skin-to-skin contact if you or your partner has active herpes sores.

Transmitting STIs from Hand Sex

Hand sex, or fingering, is a low-risk activity. But some STIs (like herpes and gonorrhea) can be transmitted by touching yourself and then touching your partner, or vice versa. Fingering, and other types of sex, can also increase your risk for bacterial vaginosis (or BV). BV is not technically an STI, but it can be prevented in some cases with safer sex.

There are many things you can do to make this type of sex safer. You can use latex or nitrile gloves. This is especially a good idea if you have open cuts or sores on your hands.  Some drugstores also sell finger cots – thin latex sleeves that cover only your fingers, and not the rest of your hand.

If you and your partner want to have hand sex, it’s a good idea to wash your hands thoroughly before you start. You may want to trim and file your fingernails to avoid accidentally scratching your partner. It’s also a good idea to wash your hands after touching your partner and before touching yourself.

Transmitting STIs from sharing sex toys

Many STIs can be transmitted by sharing sex toys, because bodily fluids come in contact with the sex toy. Another thing to consider is that if you’re using a strap-on there will usually be some skin-to-skin contact.

You can reduce the risk of transmitting STIs by using condoms on your sex toys. You can put a condom on a sex toy the same way you may put a condom on a penis. If you use a toy, and then use the toy on your partner, you should change the condom between uses. You can also sterilize some sex toys between uses by boiling them, or running them through the dishwasher. If you’re not sure how to clean a sex toy, check the packaging for instructions. If you don’t see cleaning instructions, look for the material that the toy is made of, and try doing a quick google search. To learn more about how to clean sex toys, check out the resources below!

Where Can Lesbians Get Tested For STIs?

There are LGBTQ+ friendly clinics in Montreal where you can get tested. For example, Head and Hands in NDG, or the CLSC Quartier Latin. For more info on getting tested, and on safer sex, see the resources below!

More info:

  • Sexual health for lesbian and bisexual women – NHS UK

    NHS UK. Info regarding practices and risks of STI transmission between women who sleep with women.

  • STI Risk Assessment – Scarleteen

    Explains which STI you are at risk for, during a given sexual practice

  • Head & Hands Health Services

    Head and Hands is a health clinic for youth ages 12-26 near the Vendome Metro station. They offer free, anonymous STD testing, even if you’re not covered by RAMQ. Head and Hands also has a lot of other services, including medical checkups, getting contraception, transitioning, and more.

    They offer a walk-in clinic on most Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 4:45pm. It’s first come first serve, so it helps to arrive early.

    They recommend bringing your RAMQ card if you have it, but you can still see someone if you don’t have it.

  • How do lesbians have sex? – Scarleteen

    Scarleteen answers the question of how two women have sex together.

  • Sex toy cleaning for different materials – Babeland

    Babeland’s site on how to clean sex toys based on the materials they’re made of.

  • What is bacterial vaginosis (BV)?

    Go Ask Alice explains the symptoms and treatment of a condition that can happen without sex, but is sometimes considered an STI.

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