Safer Sex Considerations for Young Women in Same-Sex Relationships
What do young women need to know about safer sex in same-sex relationships?
Women who sleep exclusively with other women are generally at lower risk for STIs (sexually transmitted infections) than heterosexual and bisexual women. However, that doesn’t mean there is absolutely no risk and that precautions aren’t needed. It is possible to spread various infections no matter what your sexual orientation – so whether you are straight, gay, or bi, using safer sex practices is always a good idea.
About sexually transmitted infections (STIs):
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that are generally passed through sexual contact. It doesn’t matter what your race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class or religion is – so long as it is physically possible for them to be transmitted, STIs do not discriminate. STIs are spread through contact with infected bodily fluids – for women in same-sex relations this would include blood (including menstrual blood), vaginal fluids, breast milk, and secretions from STI sores. They can be spread through contact with infected skin or mucous membranes, and through vaginal, anal or oral sex. They can be passed from woman to woman even if neither one has ever had sex with a man – so whether you are gay or straight, you’ve been physically intimate with men or only with other women, it is important to always practice safer sex to lower your chances of getting an STI.
Likelihood of infections being transmitted from sexual contact between two women:
Genital herpes, HPV, hepatitis A – Yes
Vaginitis – Possible, but not well studied and documented
Hepatitis B, HIV – Rarely, but cases have been documented
Hepatitis C – Unlikely, not well studied
Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – theoretically possible, but not well studied or documented
Safer sex for gay women:
So how can women lower their chances of getting an STI when being physically intimate with other women? TeenHealthFX has four things to consider:
Monogamy and testing
Whether you are gay, straight or bisexual, one way to lower your risk is to be in a monogamous relationship where both partners have been tested for STIs prior to any physical intimacy.
This doesn’t mean that if your partner tells you she’s faithful to you that all other precautions should be cast aside. Keep in mind is that if your partner tells you that she is exclusively with you, there is no way to know with absolute certainty that this is true. You have to weigh out your trust for this person with what it would mean to you to possibly transmit an STI – and decide whether you want to risk not taking any kind of precautions (such as those listed below).
Safer sex practices
- Connect through things like hugging, dry kissing, masturbation and mutual masturbation, and massages.
- Keep mucous membranes, such as the vagina, anus and mouth, away from your partner’s fluids (particularly vaginal discharge and blood). During oral sex cover your partner’s vaginal or anal area with a “dental dam” (a square of latex) or a piece of latex cut from a condom or latex glove to prevent direct contact with bodily fluids. During vulva-to-vulva sex, place a similar latex barrier over the vaginal area.
- Penetration of the vagina or anus with fingers or hands is risky if there are any sores, open cuts, or hangnails on the fingers or hands. The use of latex gloves, condoms or finger sheaths can help protect against the transmission of STIs.
- Always use a new condom, glove, finger sheath, or any other type of cover when switching between penetration of the vagina and penetration of the anus.
- Don’t touch any sores that you know to be (or that could be) associated with herpes or genital warts.
- If you use any kind of sex toys, clean the toys in hot, soapy water or a mild bleach solution between uses, and use new condoms with each use.
Talking to your partner about various aspects of your relationship is crucial in safer sex practices. Some things to discuss:
- Are you and your partner planning on being monogamous in this relationship?
- Do you or your partner have any STIs that you know of?
- Are you and your partner willing to get tested for STIs prior to being physically intimate? If not, why?
- What are your views on safer sex and what will each of you commit to doing in order to keep the other one safe?
- When it comes to being physically intimate, what sexual acts are you and your partner comfortable with and not comfortable with?
Visiting the doctor
Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider if you notice any concerning symptoms or have any reason to think you may have been exposed to any kind of infection. That way you can get diagnosed and treated, and you can be educated on how to prevent transmitting anything to current or future partners in the event you do have some kind of infection.
A quick note on gynecological care: There is a misconception that because gay women are not having sex with men, they do not need to see a gynecologist. Lesbians need to know that gynecological care is just as important for them as it is for their heterosexual peers. Routine physicals, Pap smears, STD counseling and testing are important for both gay and straight women. Speak to your healthcare professional about when you should be scheduling gyno appointments and what to expect at these visits depending on your age and sexual history.
Talking to your healthcare provider about your sexual orientation:
TeenhealthFX thinks that it is important for you to feel safe and comfortable enough with your doctor to be open and honest about your sexual orientation and sexual history. That way your doctor can have a better understanding of your health needs and you can feel more comfortable to ask any questions that you might have.
To find a healthcare provider who will be sensitive to your needs, consider the following:
- Ask trusted family member or friends for referrals to reputable healthcare providers.
- Meet with a couple of different healthcare providers to determine which one is right for you.
- If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-5199 for an appointment with an adolescent medicine specialist.